Yoga Neck Shoulder Pain Anger—Adding Fuel to the Fire

When you are experiencing chronic pain, especially when it’s coupled with fear, depression, hopelessness, or other negative states of mind, it’s completely understandable that you might be angry. Perhaps you’re angry at the person who “caused” your pain, or the insurance companies that won’t pay for the treatments or medicines prescribed for you, or the doctors who aren’t curing you fast enough, or your body, which seems to have failed you, or the people who don’t believe you when you tell them you hurt, and more. You may even be angry at life.

You might hold your anger in, bottling it up, or you might vent on others, snapping at them or suddenly exploding. The healthiest approach to handling anger lies somewhere in between these two extremes; that is, expressing your feelings in an appropriate manner without hurting others or yourself. For many people in chronic pain, letting go of anger is a very important process, as anger inflames the pain equation and makes everything worse.

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Bruce, one of my patients, worked for many years in a warehouse job that required a lot of heavy lifting. It was hard work, but Bruce liked his job and was close friends with many of his coworkers. Then one day, he strained his back while lifting a box. When Bruce reported the injury to his supervisor, he was told to take some aspirin and keep working. But the pain didn’t subside, so Bruce went to see a doctor, who told him to take time off work while he received treatment. Unfortunately, when Bruce finally returned to work, he wasn’t able to do everything he’d done in the past. The supervisor let him go a few weeks later.

Bruce had every reason to be upset. He had always been a good employee, yet all he got in return for his efforts was a pink slip when he didn’t make a full and rapid recovery from an on-the-job injury. Plus, he was stuck with a back injury. The more Bruce stewed over how he had been wronged, the more intense his back pain felt. It was just like somebody was turning up the dial on his pain.

As you might suspect, the longer Bruce stayed angry, the more his recovery was delayed. In order for him to succeed with his treatments and move on with his career, Bruce had to let go of much of his anger. Overcoming a serious injury is difficult enough without adding the extra, unnecessary stress of ongoing anger.

In order to break his pattern of anger, Bruce needed to identify his anger triggers and change the way he responded to them For example, stewing over the lack of empathy shown to him by his supervisor just made him feel worse. So when this thought popped into his head, he deliberately thought about his work friends who continued to be supportive, were concerned about his injury, and had always appreciated his work ethic. Determined to keep anger from over-stressing his system, Bruce also utilized some of the tools described in Chapter 4, such as diaphragmatic breathing.

Fortunately, there was a silver lining to this incident. Bruce eventually found a job he liked even better, that also paid better than the old one. It had been time for him to shift, gears in his career, face new challenges, and reap new rewards. But Bruce could never have taken advantage of these new opportunities until he processed his anger and allowed himself to move on.

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