Skip to content
How Mental Illness Displays as Pain & How Massage Helps

How Mental Illness Displays as Pain & How Massage Helps

While pain is a part of life for everyone at some point, for those with depression, anxiety, or another type of mental health condition, pain can become especially intense and difficult to treat. Those dealing with depression, for instance, tend to experience more sever and chronic pain than others.

The overlap of mental health conditions and pain is particularly noticeable in chronic and occasionally disabling pain syndromes including fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lower back pain, headaches, and nerve pain. Psychiatric disorders not only make the pain intensity worse but also to increased the risk of associated disability.

Let’s dive it a bit deeper.

The Relationship Between Pain and Mental Health

In the past, scientists thought that the connection between pain, anxiety, depression, and other conditions resulted chiefly from psychological as opposed to biological factors. Long-term pain is depressing, and likewise, ongoing depression can feel physically painful. However, as researchers acquired more data about how the brain works and how the nervous system interacts with the body, they’ve realized that pain actually shares some biological mechanisms with anxiety and depression.

Emotional pain originates from non-physical sources. Occasionally, this emotional distress is the comes from outside sources while other times it comes from internal sources, such as regret, grief, or loss. And of course, it can be related to a mental health condition. However, no matter what the cause, this psychological pain significantly affects several areas of your life.

While it’s frequently dismissed as being less severe than physical pain, it’s crucial that emotional pain is taken seriously. Also known as psychic pain, spiritual pain, psychalgia, emotional suffering, psychological pain, algopsychalia, soul pain, or mental pain, this type of pain can cause a number of symptoms.

Symptoms of emotional pain can include feelings of:

  • Deep sorrow, sadness, or depression
  • Grief
  • Intense distress
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Negative emotions
  • Panic
  • Rage
  • Shame
  • Worthlessness

In some cases, feelings of emotional pain do cause physical symptoms that don’t have an external physical cause. When these thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are tied to somatic symptoms cause significant harm or interruption to a person's ability to function, they could even be diagnosed with a somatic symptom disorder.

How Emotional Distress Can Make You Sick


Various emotions can lead to psychological pain. Everyone experiences these feelings occasionally as it’s a part of life, but when such feelings are intense and/or persistent, they can affect a person's ability to perform normal daily activities and enjoy life.

Let’s take a look at how certain emotions can lead to pain.


Sadness is a natural emotion we experience when we lose someone, something, or have a missed opportunity that can cause disappointment. However, if it doesn't get easier to manage withf, it might indicate that the person has depression, which can impact their whole body.

If sadness impacts your daily life and feels like it isn’t easing, it could be necessary to get psychological and/or medical intervention. If you’re dealing with intense, persistent sadness, talk to your health care professional about what it could mean. Getting help isn’t weakness and you’re never expected to figure it out or deal with it alone.

Unexpressed Anger

Anger is another common human emotion. It releases adrenaline, which boosts muscle tension and speeds up breathing. It’s commonly associated with the fight part of the fight-flight-freeze reaction. When anger can help you to find action, it can also be debilitating if not managed and allowed to fester.


As with anger, anxiety and fear also release adrenaline. Jumpiness, jitteriness, and prolonged worry can accompany this "flight" part of response. This can make you feel immobilized or unable to make a decision. In some people, anxiety is a part of an anxiety disorder, and psychotherapy or prescription medication may be necessary to help.

Shame & Guilt

Common to nearly everyone, guilt and shame can be made worse when you’re working to keep something a secret. Often, not owning up to something causes us to feel guilty and if we don’t come clean or address it, prolonged feelings of shame and guilt can cause physical symptoms.

How to Deal With Negative Emotions & Stress

Psychological pain can not only contribute to physical pain but it can also make it worse. Emotional distress can cause a number of physical ailments as well that include:

  • Stomach and intestinal upset, including nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain, especially in the neck
  • Pain in the arms and legs

Emotional pain can also go hand in hand with:

  • Aggression and violence
  • Alcohol or substance use
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide
  • Compulsive behaviors like shopping, gambling, and sex addiction
  • Eating disorders
  • Risky behaviors
  • Self-harm

A lot of these behaviors are the person trying to diffuse or escape the effects of the emotional pain and an attempt at coping. 

Physical vs. Emotional Pain

While physical pain and emotional pain are different, both types of pain can share some neurological similarities according to our most recent studies, and both emotional and physical pain are tied to fluctuations in the prefrontal cortex and cingulate cortex.

Some researchers suggest that rather than looking at emotional and physical pain as fundamentally different, you should conceptualize them both as being parts of a broader whole. Some types of pain are purely physical while others are emotional, but in several cases, the pain someone is feeling lies somewhere in the middle.


Treatment of emotional disorders depends on what the diagnosis is. Psychological conditions like anxiety and depression can be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two as well as complementary therapies.


Psychotherapy can involve talk therapy, including specific approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on identifying negative thoughts and emotions that add to your symptoms and works to replace these thoughts with more adaptive, realistic ones that promote healthier behavior. 

Pain can be demoralizing. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is not only an established treatment for anxiety and depression but also the best-studied psychotherapy for treating pain. Therapists who use CBT help patients learn coping skills so that they can manage, rather than be victimized by, their conditions.


Medications can sometimes be prescribed to address certain symptoms of physical and medical conditions, but it can be challenging to find both the mental and physical causes of the pain and emotional distress. It’s important to understand everything that is going on with a person that is causing their pain so that every aspect can be addressed.

Relaxation Training

Various techniques can assist you to relax and reduce your stress response. Stress can exacerbate pain and the symptoms of a mental health condition. Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, meditation, massage, and mindfulness training can help to ease physical pain and provide useful relaxation.


During this therapy, a clinician helps a patient achieve a trance-like state and provides positive suggestions like a reduction in pain. This can provide a relief for several types of patients. One study showed that hypnosis reduced both gastrointestinal distress and symptoms of depression and anxiety in 71% of people in the study.


There's an abundance of research that regular physical activity can improve mood and reduce anxiety. In addition, a healthy body can find relief from some pain, though it may not be a good treatment for every type of pain or condition. Talk to your doctor before you start any type of activity to be sure it is safe for you.

Combining Treatments & Adding Massage

Patients with anxiety or depression occasionally see that combining psychotherapy with medication can provide a type of complete relief. In addition, complementary therapies like massage and meditation can also help to provide a well-rounded type of care.

A doctor will be able to help you with traditional treatment options, including medication and therapy and also let you know if massage could be beneficial in helping you manage your condition on a daily basis. Massage is something to incorporate into a new or existing treatment regimen but can’t totally replace one and you should always be sure that it is supported by your doctor.

Receiving daily massages can boost relaxation and circulation, and this combination contributes to your general happiness and well-being. Purchasing a massage chair for your home can allow you the opportunity to get a massage whenever the mood strikes you, allowing you to enjoy all of these benefits available to you at the push of a couple of buttons, and at a moment’s notice.

You can look into the chairs, techniques, and other benefits of massage in the Learning Center on our website, and you’ll be able to see the number of other physical benefits that these chairs can provide. Additionally, in the Massage Chair Buying Guide, we talk about which chairs are good for certain desires and needs, and it can help you with your search for a massage chair when you want to incorporate one into your relaxation routine and mental health resources.

Your mental health is important. You deserve to feel your best and be able to take advantage of any tool out there that can help you with it. With that in mind, don’t forget about our financing options. We understand that investing in a massage chair is a big decision, and we want to help make that process as simple and stress-free as possible.

If you have any questions about massage chairs and how they might provide a relaxing, serotonin-boosting experience, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re available over the phone or through email at

And remember, if you or a loved one are struggling with emotional pain, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.


Shop Massage Chairs

Need help finding the Perfect Massage Chair? Use our Massage Chair Tool

Previous article Comparison Shopping for Your Perfect Massage Chair
Next article Why Relaxation and Stress-Relief are Crucial for Wellness