How Anguish Affects You

Updated February 22, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anguish is one of the most painful emotions felt by humans; the word means extreme pain or distress. It is one of those feelings that hurts so deeply that words cannot describe it. Dealing and coping with this emotion can be very difficult, but there are things you can do to help lessen the pain and come out on the other side, including speaking with an online therapist.

Wondering How Anguish Is Really Affecting You?

What Is Anguish?

Anguish is often referred to as emotional distress or emotional pain, and can encompass a number of different emotions, such as trauma, grief, sorrow, fear, and anxiety. Simply put, anguish can refer to being in severe pain, and it is important to note that anguish can be mental and physical. It is a reasonable, typical, and even a rational response to a horrible situation. Someone may experience anguish when going through a divorce or through the loss of a loved one. These examples of grief have the potential to wreak havoc on your well-being. A traumatic event can change you as a person, especially if anguish goes on for long enough.

Given the immense complexity of this emotion, it's no wonder so many people have difficulty coping with it. Personal anguish often comes on the tail of a traumatic event, making coping even more challenging. Being unable to cope when you suffer anguish can lead to other mental conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Getting treatment or working with a licensed counselor can help you cope with and overcome the feelings of anguish you are experiencing.

Anguish Vs. Pain

Many health professionals like to make a distinction between pain and anguish, effectively making them two different things. Doctors may reserve the word pain for physical instances and use the anguish definition to refer to mental distress and suffering. This is not an everyday word, and instead can be used alongside an agony verb or description. The logic for this is that the nociceptors, sensory receptors for pain, are active in cases of physical pain, but are not used in cases of depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, to the ordinary person, pain is a more generic term, and we use it to describe both physical pain and psychological distress. We even use similar metaphors to describe physical and mental traumas; weapons are some of the most common metaphors that you will see. For example, someone might describe the physical pain in his or her body as "shooting or stabbing," while someone else will describe his or her response to a situation as being "stabbed in the heart."

Semantics aside, people can feel a sense of anguish both physically and mentally. What does anguish mean to you? To most people, pain is a broad term and anguish is merely a level of it. No matter the area it exists in, anguish can have a negative impact on various aspects of life.

Mental Anguish Vs. Physical Anguish

Before discussing the specific ways anguish can impact a human, it is useful to highlight the difference between mental and physical anguish. Mental anguish is usually the response to an event that is considered traumatizing. The two examples listed earlier can lead to depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Some people may feel frightened because of a particular event, such as a person who experienced domestic violence. Regardless of the type of response, it is detrimental to the individual's state of mind. However, if you feel threatened, you should seek help immediately by calling 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800.799. SAFE (7233).

On the other hand, physical anguish can be a little different. Physical anguish can be a response to a mental problem or issue. For example, a case of depression could ruin the appetite of someone and lead to starvation. Perhaps the emotional distress produces a feeling of actually dying inside. However, physical anguish doesn't always need to be associated with mental anguish. Someone can experience physical anguish by accidentally slamming a door on his or her fingers. While painful, an event such as this most likely won't have the same lasting impact as one that produces a visceral experience through mental anguish.

The Effects Of Anguish

Anguish has the potential to change people. Here are some of the ways that it can affect you and your personality:


Motivation is often one of the first areas of the brain that mental anguish attacks. When people are depressed, the desire to do anything is diminished. Depression caused by bitter anguish can impact an individual's drive to do basic tasks, like waking up and going to work.

Now it's understandable that someone may need to take personal time off work, especially if it's due to anguish brought on by the death of a loved one. However, long-term and untreated depression can spiral out of control and result in a variety of different problems when an unavoidable whirl of grief arises, or there are wailing spirals. Using employment as an example, it can result in:

  • decreased productivity

  • more absences

  • reduced likelihood of retaining a job

Since mental anguish and depression can prey on a person's motivation to work, it is something that needs careful attention. It can potentially cause someone to lose their job, which affects their livelihood. If the bills are not being paid, more problems will stack up on top of anguish.


Attitude is also another factor that gets affected by anguish. Even the most positive people can be prone to a shift in attitude following a tragedy. Pessimism can outweigh any sense of optimism for people dealing with anguish, and pessimism can sometimes manifest as self-loathing too. An individual may blame themselves for an event or may even feel alone and desolate. These feelings can also negatively impact their social life.

In times of distress, it's common for people to push away the people that care about them. Someone may try to offer a helping hand, but the desire to be alone overrides the possibility of meaningful social interaction. Your voice and mannerism may be affected as well, and there is the risk of saying something that you don't truly mean. Unfortunately, this can discourage friends and family from trying to help you.

Wondering How Anguish Is Really Affecting You?

Physical Symptoms

As was briefly touched upon earlier in this article, mental anguish can lead to physical problems. If unaddressed, some of these symptoms can be life-threatening. For example, a loss in appetite is typical following an event that caused a state of anguish. For those dealing with depression and anxiety, the thought of eating might rarely cross a person's mind, and it just isn't as important as other thoughts. The physical signs of hunger will also get pushed aside. Not eating will inevitably result in quick weight loss. This weight loss is due to a person taking in fewer calories than what was required to maintain their current weight. However, this can be taken too far with malnutrition and starvation being possible scenarios. Your body needs a certain number of calories to keep your organs functioning properly around the clock.

Anguish can also affect your sleep and energy levels. Anxiety caused by something traumatic can cause insomnia. Your thoughts may be racing, and you could be tossing and turning in bed; it may even seem impossible to get comfortable. Studies show that anywhere from 70 to 91 percent of patients with PTSD can't sleep properly. This example illustrates just how significantly mental anguish can disrupt sleep. Not getting enough sleep can affect your metabolism and hormonal levels, and it can make you less alert on the road. Drowsiness is a leading cause of car accidents.

On the opposite spectrum, depression caused by anguish can make a person chronically fatigued. Even with enough sleep, excessive tiredness and daytime sleepiness are cited by patients with depression. Sometimes sleeping is all that they want to do to escape their thoughts and reality. This unhealthy habit can lead to poor hygiene, poor self-care, and poor work and social relationships.

Things You Can Do To Overcome Feelings of Anguish

Feeling anguish can have a major impact on your life, and doing the simplest tasks can feel overwhelming and unmanageable. You can try certain things, such as exercise and making sure you have positive people and things around you, to lessen your anguish. Exercise has a cornucopia of benefits, and one of them is reduced stress. Surrounding yourself with fun, positive people or things is also a good idea because it can put you in a better mindset. Here are a few more things you can do to overcome the feelings of anguish:

Distract Yourself

Finding an activity to distract yourself can take your mind off of the feelings of anguish and sadness. Try going to the movies, exercising, or playing a game in order to allow yourself a break from your current feelings.

Take Care Of Yourself

Anguish can often derail your thoughts and result in you forgetting to or choosing to not take care of yourself. Despite the way you are feeling, try to engage in those things that make you feel calm and relaxed, such as taking a warm bath, lighting some candles, or baking. Furthermore, remember to follow basic self-care so you do not neglect your needs.


Helping others can help you improve your mood and even make you feel happy. This can help put the feelings of anguish and sadness aside, even if it is only temporary. But even a little reprieve from your anguish can be welcome.

Practice Gratitude

As strange as it may sound, practicing gratitude can give you a ray of hope despite the immense feelings of sadness you are currently facing. Taking the time to practice gratitude and find things to be thankful for can make you resilient to negative emotions and distress.

There are many different strategies out there designed to help people experiencing psychological distress. While it may be difficult to gather up the motivation to do them, participating in various activities can help boost your mood. Things may seem bleak presently, but these are some options to help regain control of your life.

Treatment For Anguish

If the anguish is too unbearable and has had a profound effect on your life, such as your eating and sleeping habits, medication may be an option for you. Make sure to consult with a physician who can make the right call for you.

One of the most effective ways to address anguish is by talking about it. You may choose to discuss how you feel with a friend or family, or you have the option to talk about it with a professional.

Seeking Help

Talking to a counselor can help you sort through your thoughts and can teach you healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the feelings you are having. Traditionally, this would require you to take time from work and physically go to a therapist's office for an appointment. However, there is a lot more flexibility with online counseling. 

There is a growing body of research suggesting that online therapy is an efficient way of helping individuals manage feelings of anguish that may be related to certain mental health issues, such as trauma. In one report, researchers studied the effects of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on individuals experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), finding that it significantly reduced symptoms. CBT is commonly used to treat people who are coping with trauma by helping them identify triggering thoughts and behaviors, so they can better control their emotions in difficult situations. An online therapist can help alter certain associations with negative events, reducing feelings of anguish stemming from trauma.

As discussed above, online therapy is there to help you cope with complicated feelings that may be related to trauma or similar mental health issues. BetterHelp has a team of licensed counselors available for you to work with online. This means you can communicate with your counselor via messaging, chat, video, or phone, whichever is most comfortable for you. And without expensive office space to rent, online therapy is often more affordable than traditional counseling. BetterHelp’s licensed mental health professionals can help you work through your feelings of anguish, no matter their source. Read what other users have to say about their experiences with their counselors below.

Counselor Reviews

"I have come a long way. With the help of Alexis, I have accomplished things I thought I'd never do. I am glad I did this, it has benefited me so much. With the guidance and encouragement of Alexis, I am more confident in myself and I see a clear path to success and happiness. I have learned to control myself and not doubt myself. It is hard to let go but I know I will be fine and if I need she will still be here for me. Thank you Alexis you have truly helped me change my life. I am so grateful. I wish you the best!"

"Peter takes time to understand you and gives you that room to open up in a nonjudgmental space. He is able to tackle multiple stressors and provide solutions to help you streamline thoughts and target areas that need to be addressed. He offers multiple methods (without overwhelming you), to help you through what you are going through and is very patient. He has helped me through a lot and I look forward to continue working with him."

Moving Forward

The intense feeling of anguish is only temporary, and you will get to the other side. While there are techniques you can use to help you get through these intense emotions, sometimes working with a professional can help you cope with these feelings in a healthier way. No matter what you're going through, with the right tools, you can move forward to a truly fulfilling life.

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

1. What are two synonyms for anguish?
2. What does anguish mean biblically?
3. What does a cry of anguish mean?
4. What is the cause of anguish?
5. How do you express anguish?
6. What are the 5 signs of emotional suffering?
7. What are the symptoms of anguish?
8. What are the common warning signs of emotional distress for adults?

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