In the last issue, we discussed stress.  Stress can cause pain, it can intensify existing pain, and it can prevent your body from healing. Stress can also cause an incredible array of physical, emotional, and mental problems. Stress is linked to cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disturbances, muscular/skeletal problems, skin problems, chronic fatigue, insomnia, irritability, impatience, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Stress creates misery and sickness.  It is a killer. You become stressed when you attempt to control a situation, but the situation is not cooperating with you. Your body reacts with a fight or flight defensive response, just as if you were in battle. This would be fine if you were engaged in a short-term battle, but it creates grave problems when the thwarted attempt to control is chronic.  The long-term effects of stress are devastating to body and mind. The most important thing in dealing adequately with stress is to be aware of when you are stressed. This is not as easy as it sounds.  If you live in constant stress, you may have forgotten what it is like to be unstressed - you have nothing to compare with your current situation. There are several ways you can become more aware of stress. One of these is to take the "Headache Stress Test" on our website at, even if you don't suffer from headache. Click on the link on the home page, fill out the questionnaire, and then score it by clicking the submit button at the bottom of the page. You can compare your score with the norms, and see how your stress level compares with other people. Another way to become more aware of stress is to look for symptoms in your body, mind, and actions. Observe your body, your thoughts, and your actions.  Body symptoms include upset stomach, fatigue, weakness all over, backaches, headaches, dizziness, constipation, diarrhea, chest tightness, heart palpitations, hyperventilation, tremors, dry throat, and sweatiness. Mental symptoms include scary thoughts, distraction, racing mind, uncertainty, confusion, forgetfulness, and suspicion. Behavioral symptoms include poor eating and sleeping habits, rapid speech, drug use, reckless driving, and excessive smoking and drinking. How many of these do you have?  The more you have, the more stressed you probably are. ================================================= The Role of Emotions in Pain Relief - Part Two An excellent way to become more aware of stress is to observe your emotions, particularly the "control" emotions of anxiety and fear, anger, and guilt. It is very difficult for many people to acknowledge these emotions.  For example, people are often taught that anger is ugly, or that brave, macho men can't be afraid. This is too bad, because the problem is not with the emotions themselves, but with how we act on them. You may have a problem if you physically attack people or destroy things when you are angry, or if you run away or avoid situations when you are afraid. Fortunately, there are other ways to deal with these emotions that are much healthier for everyone. Anger, anxiety, fear, and guilt are unpleasant. This is nor surprising, because anger, anxiety, and fear are part of the experience of physical pain. They don't feel good. They capture our attention and enslave us. We would like to be free of these emotions, but how do we free ourselves? Before we discuss helpful ways of dealing with these emotions, let's first look at some ways that are not so helpful. One painful way to deal with emotions is to FEED them, which just creates more stress.  George was recently dumped by his girlfriend, for a reason he thought was ridiculous and unjust - she said his back was too hairy. Regardless of the reason for her leaving, he was very hurt and angry about this, and he constantly thought of ways to get back at her, to make her feel bad. He couldn't keep his mind off it, his mind and body were tortured by angry thoughts, pounding heart, muscle tension, and so on. He would think of her and work himself into a frenzy of anger, plotting revenge. His work and his other relationships suffered because people started thinking of George as an angry, resentful person. George was FEEDING his anger by focusing on angry thoughts. How often do you do that?  How often do you FEED fear by focusing on thoughts of possible adverse consequences in the future? We already know that trying to fight or escape from physical pain does not help - it only makes things worse. The same principle holds for dealing with painful emotions - fighting or trying to escape from them makes things worse. Therefore, another painful way to deal with emotions is to FIGHT them. If you think that anger or fear are unpleasant and undesirable, then you might attempt to suppress or deny them. Most people have had the experience of noticing that someone else was angry, and when they mentioned this to the angry person, that person shot back angrily, "I am NOT angry!"  The angry person is obviously unaware and out of control. If you realize that anger, anxiety, fear, and guilt are foiled attempts to control, then you can see that attempting to control these emotions is not going to work - it is just more of the same thing, control. Trying to control these emotions just keeps them going, even though you might not realize it at the time because you are turning your attention away from them.  The effect on the body is the same, though. Attempting to control emotions creates havoc in the body and mind, and causes the undesirable emotions to persist. It is important not to FEED or FIGHT unpleasant emotions. How then, do we deal with them?  If you want to get the most information from your emotions, it is important to ALLOW them. ALLOW your body, through emotions, to communicate with you. Examine how you are feeling, and ask yourself if you are angry, anxious, fearful, or guilty. ADMIT the possibility that you may feel any of them. Many sufferers of headache, backache, muscle and joint pain, etc., report that when they ask themselves if they are angry, anxious, fearful, or guilty, and they search for these emotions, their pain goes away miraculously!  Such is the power of ending the struggle and letting go. Therefore, when you feel some emotion arising, ALLOW it, and ADMIT to yourself that you are angry, afraid, or whatever.  The "AA Principle" of dealing with emotions is to ALLOW and ADMIT your emotions. This is the first step in dealing with them. The surprising thing about emotions is that if you don't FIGHT or FEED them, they will go away all by themselves, with no special effort. The emotions will flare up, and then quickly dissipate like fireworks in the night sky. You don't have to take anyone's word forthis, you can test it out for yourself. To get an A grade in handling emotions, ALLOW and ADMIT them.  Don't get an F grade by FIGHTING or FEEDING them. Meditation can help in dealing with emotions. You may practice some form of meditation, for example, where you sit and focus on your breathing.  When a thought arises, you acknowledge that you are thinking, and gently return your attention to your breathing. You can do the same thing with emotions. Acknowledge them, and turn your attention back to whatever you were doing. Remember that focusing your attention on anything will strengthen it, so don't dwell on your emotions.  Neither fight nor feed them, just let go, and let them be. This takes some practice, so don't give up. Keep at it and it will eventually become second nature. Fear and anger are very powerful emotions that charge your body with excessive energy. Often, it helps greatly to discharge that energy by doing something physical, such as taking a walk, or engaging in one of your favorite vigorous recreational activities. When you are doing this, be careful to keep your thoughts clean, and do not fight or feed your emotions. Say "I feel anger" rather than saying "That dirty so and so".  It also helps to come to the present physical moment by focusing on your body sensations. Feel your body.  If you are angry, anxious, or fearful, ask yourself what it feels like in your body.  Investigate these feelings. Is your heart pounding?  Don't try to stop it, just feel it.  Is your stomach tight and your breathing restricted? Get in touch with that feeling. © 2016 by Dr. Ken Pfeiffer

Stress and Pain / Role of Emotions - Part Two