Mindful Mondays: The Angry Side of Pain
I tend to get irritable when I am in significant pain. Everything bothers me as I become hypersensitive to the environment around me. I am generally a very laid back person and I don’t often get my feathers ruffled. I tend to let things go and not worry about the small stuff. I also don’t allow other’s moods and bad days rub off on me. I often repeat “Not my Monkeys, not my circus” when there is drama surrounding me.
But all of that changes when I am in pain. I suddenly notice the person across the room chomping on her gum, the rustle of papers and tapping of pens. The air around me seems to suffocate me and I slide into a flash of hot, sweating episode where my body (triggered by the pain) is unable to keep the temperature regulated. Now those small things that I am able to let go 85% of the time, are enormous annoyances. My tolerance for stupidity and whining is nonexistent.
In other words, I become a bitch.
Most of the people who know me well are confused but this sudden change in personality. My smile fades and a stern look on my face shows the outside world that I am not a force to be reckoned with. A once big and empathetic heart becomes jaded and I lack compassion in those moments.
I wish I could say that these moments are rare and I don’t have to deal with painful days on a regular basis. But with having CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) and Fibromyalgia I unfortunately deal with pain on daily basis. Now don’t get me wrong, I am by no means using a diagnosis or pain to justify being an asshole. I only mention this because I have noticed that this has been a trigger to 99.9% of my feelings of Anger.
So Why Does Pain Trigger Anger?
Here are some quick facts about Anger
- It is a natural response
- Anger appears when we feel threatened, unsafe, rejected and aren’t feeling physically well
***So if Anger is an emotion that is designed to keep us out of danger or threatening scenarios, it is no wonder physical pain triggers this response.
When I am in pain, I am not only feeling the physical sensation (burning, pins and needles, fire, stabbing, shooting) and the other physical symptoms that pain can bring but I also have an emotional reaction. When I am engulfed in pain, my mind leaps to immediately trying to protect my body from this feeling.
I want to escape it. I want to run away form it. I fear how bad it will get. I immediately play the scenarios of how that pain may intensify and will I have to go to the Emergency Room? Will I make a fool out of myself, if I sit down right here in this line as I try to pick up my prescriptions (true story)? Will this one episode end or will it spiral into a full body spread? The list goes on….
As anger is triggered it shifts our perception through a lens of fear, which is distorted from reality. We may think:
- “Why me?”
- “When will this stop?”
- Feelings of hopelessness and powerless
Naturally when my physical body is feeling pain and my mind is chaotic with fear, it immediately triggers Anger (Who wouldn’t be angry about being in this type of pain!?!). Now that the anger has been triggered, there is another physiological response to the anger.
Here is what happens to the body when we are angry
- muscles tense
- blood pressure rises
- thoughts become rapid
- fists are clenched
- nervous system is frantically trying to decide if this is flight or fright
- heartbeat is rapid
- breathing becomes shallow
- pupils dilate
- upset stomach
- unable to concentrate
Anyone seeing the correlation yet? This begins a big nasty cycle of physiological & emotional responses which quickly snowball into more pain. How can you lessen the pain in your body if your muscles are tense and your breathing is shallow? The answer is you can’t.
How Mindfulness Can Help With The Angry Side of Pain
A few weeks ago I did a Mindful Monday Post on Minding the Pain (you can read that here). When you re-visit that post you will see a lot of overlap between actions we can take for both pain and anger. Ideally you want to catch this cycle before it picks up too much momentum. You want to tap the breaks before you catch yourself screaming in the supermarket because someone cut the line.
Here are some steps to soothe anger before it grows into a monster
- Notice the Anger
- DO not Judge the Anger
- I’m serious, don’t judge the anger. I repeat this because judging the anger will automatically make us MORE angrier and increase physical pain!
- Take a purposeful deep breath while closing your eyes
- Breathe slowly, counting to 4 on the in breath and 4 on the out breath. (When we slow the breath, we are slowing down the physical and emotional response.
- Notice the fear based thoughts
- DO NOT judge the thoughts, let them go, acknowledging they are not reality. They are only just thoughts.
- Take a break. Whatever you are doing just stop. (think a time out but for adults) Sitting at work? Take a walk. Irritated in the grocery store? cut your trip short or walk, scoot over to the flowers section and literally smell the roses. Driving? Find a song you like, sing along, laugh at yourself
- Listen to your body. What do you need right now? In this moment? Do you need to sit? Do you need a hug? Do you need a nap? Do you need to stretch?
The most important step is to take care of you! Those who are near and dear to your heart know that you are not an angry person. Be kind to yourself and know that the irritation that you are feeling is completely normal. If you are living with chronic pain or illness, you have a right to be angry but don’t let that steal your joy.
Give yourself some kudos. I don’t even know most of you, but I know that many of you are doing the best that you can do in the moment. If you get angry, let it go. Don’t ruminate on the response.
I am finding that when I am able to catch my anger before it snowballs I am able to be my easy going, down to earth self. What helps you when you find yourself angry?
Much Metta (loving kindness),