Causes And Treatment Of Psychosomatic Pain
By Julia Thomas
Updated December 10, 2018
What is a psychosomatic pain?
Derived from psyche (mind) and soma (body), psychosomatic refers to real physical symptoms that are caused by the mind. Unlike hypochondria, in which a patient has a chronic fear of being unhealthy and may imagine that any small ache or pain is the symptom of a horrible illness, those who experience psychosomatic pain often experience real, debilitating physical symptoms. When diagnosed by a doctor, however, these patients are often found to be completely healthy. How can this be?
What is hypochondria, and how does it differ from psychosomatic pain?
Hypochondriacs are overwhelmed with a constant fear of developing a serious illness. We've all been there - researching the most common symptoms can easily lead you to believe that you have a deadly disease. Have a headache? That's probably a brain tumor! Are you feeling nauseous? You may be developing a rare form of cancer! Many people can rationally assume that dehydration may just cause a headache, and nausea may be caused by something you ate. Hypochondriacs, however, are constantly suffering from this fear. It's an all-consuming fear that leads to constant monitoring of the body.
Hypochondriacs typically feel minor, everyday symptoms that they believe are the first sign of something more threatening, or they feel fine but live in the constant fear of becoming ill. Those with psychosomatic pain, however, exhibit true physical symptoms that make it difficult to get through the day.
What are some common psychosomatic symptoms?
While psychosomatic pain can refer to any physical pain that doesn't have a logical, medical explanation, there are a handful of symptoms that are frequently reported.
- Muscle pain
- Increased heart rate
- Chest pain
- Gastrointestinal problems
Many of these symptoms are underlying problems of a large number of illnesses and are also commonly associated with anxiety or stress. Because of this, it's no surprise that psychosomatic disorders are often difficult to diagnose.
How is psychosomatic pain diagnosed?
How can doctors be sure that the pain you are experiencing is psychosomatic? The first step is ruling out any possible illnesses or diseases that could be causing the pain. While this may require a large number of tests, X-rays and other forms of diagnosing, it is important not to overlook any illness that could potentially be treated. After all, possibilities are ruled out; the patient may be referred to a specialist who is more knowledgeable about psychosomatic disorders - often a mental health professional.
What are the causes of psychosomatic pain?
Often psychosomatic pain is caused by underlying emotions. Grief, stress, and anxiety can all manifest themselves in physical ways. If a patient has recently gone through a traumatic experience, this can give therapists a clue as to where these symptoms originated. Other times, the root of the problem is less obvious.
People who have experienced deep emotional trauma in the past may have buried those emotions, which were then expressed through physical pain years, even decades later.
How can psychosomatic pain be treated?
Often used as a first step, those suffering from psychosomatic pain may choose to meet with a therapist to discuss their physical and emotional symptoms. Finding a counselor you can trust and feel comfortable around is especially important since in many cases the therapy will bring difficult emotions to the surface.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) says that the way in which we react to a situation depends on a lot of how we perceive it. Individual perception varies widely and depends on previous experiences, genetic predispositions to mental illnesses, and the environment we are raised in. Your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all combine to affect the way you live your life. The basis of this type of therapy is to help the patient pinpoint past traumas and effectively work through the resulting emotions. As a whole, CBT shows that negative emotions can be rewritten and aims to change negative emotional patterns.
When being treated with CBT, your therapist will begin with an assessment that helps them better understand your symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is goal oriented, meaning that your therapist will work with you to create steps you can take to begin to erase negative thought patterns. The length of therapy and the steps taken vary widely depending on each patient's situation.
While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses directly on the individual, in some cases it may be helpful to combine group therapy with typical CBT. Group therapy provides a support group and also can remove any feeling of being completely alone with this disorder. It can be very helpful to hear other people's experiences and learn how they have begun to alleviate their symptoms.
If Cognitive Behavioral Therapy isn't enough, some therapists may recommend medication for alleviating the symptoms of psychosomatic disorders. Depending on the patient's medical history and current symptoms, psychiatrists may prescribe antidepressants, antipsychotics or serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
If you are suffering from debilitating psychosomatic pain, speaking with a licensed professional is highly encouraged. However, many alternative therapies can be very helpful when combined with traditional forms of therapy.
Yoga and meditation
It is widely known that both yoga and meditation (especially the combination of the two) can help ease stress and bring a sense of tranquility back into your life. This can be especially helpful if the underlying cause of your psychosomatic pain is deep emotional trauma. Yoga and meditation help to relax both the mind and the body and promote clarity. Simple stretches and muscle exercises can also help alleviate physical pain.
While there are no herbal remedies that can completely cure psychosomatic pain, a handful of common herbs can help ease stress and anxiety.
- Kava Kava is traditionally prepared as a tea and is used to help treat anxiety. It also helps alleviate restlessness and promotes deep, healthy sleep.
- Chamomile is one of the most popular 'bedtime' Mildly sedative, it helps promote a sense of peace and is great for relieving stress and anxiety.
- Magnesium supplements can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure.
- Lavender is especially soothing. It can be drunk as a tea, but the scent itself works wonders. Keep a fragrant bag of lavender around the house to sniff whenever you feel stressed.
Hypnosis induces a trance-like state in which the hypnotist momentarily suppresses consciousness, revealing the sub-conscious. While the patient is hypnotized, the hypnotist may offer suggestions for relaxation and sense of internal peace. This type of therapy varies widely depending on the symptoms of each patient.
Many people live years with psychosomatic pain without even realizing that the mind has anything to do with it. The first step to getting treatment is understanding the problem. If you believe that you are suffering from psychosomatic pain, licensed counselors at BetterHelp can get you started on the path to recovery.