The Links Between Pain, Stress, and Emotions – And How You Can Help Yourself Break Free

Written by: Nick Ortner

If you are in pain, you are probably all too familiar with the stress, overwhelm, frustration, and other difficult emotions that can go along with it. Pain can be all-consuming and completely debilitating, and it can affect all areas of your life.

Unfortunately, many people who experience pain find themselves in a vicious cycle. You see, pain contributes to stress and difficult emotions, but stress and difficult emotions can also contribute to pain. This cycle can be hard to find your way out of – but hope is possible!

Researchers now know that when we actively address the links between pain, stress, and emotions, we have the power to break free and finally find relief.

Let’s take a closer look at the connections between pain, stress, and emotions, and learn how the power of Tapping can help you to better manage or even eliminate your pain.

Pain, stress, and challenging emotions often coexist

It is not uncommon for people with pain to experience stress or mental health concerns, and the same is true vice versa.

The overlaps between stress, emotional experiences, and pain are well documented in the scientific research. For example:

  • People with depression are three times as likely to develop chronic pain, and people with chronic pain are also three times as likely to develop depression.[1]
  • Severe stress is linked to an almost three times increased risk of chronic low back pain.[2]
  • PTSD is significantly more prevalent in people with chronic pain than the general population.[3]
  • Anxiety, depression, and mood disorders are more common in people with arthritis than the general population.[4]

And that’s just a small sampling of the data. Many different studies show strong correlations between painful conditions and stress, depression, anxiety, and difficult emotions.[5]

Pain can cause stress, but stress can also cause pain

We’ve all experienced pain at some point in our lives, and we all know how distressing it can be to be in pain. Especially when pain is very severe or long-lasting, it can take a major toll on your mental and emotional state.

So, it’s not surprising that pain can lead to stress or difficult emotions in a person’s life and even contribute to conditions like anxiety or depression.

But what you might not realize is that the opposite is also true. While pain can contribute to stress, stress can also be a major contributor to pain. In fact, body aches and pains (like headaches, back pain, and neck pain) are some of the most well-known physical symptoms of emotional stress.[6]

There are several different ways in which stress and emotional states can influence our physical body and lead to pain.

For example, when we are under stress our muscles tense up, which over time can lead to significant pain.[7] The experience of stress and strong negative emotions also activates the stress response in the body, which in turn can trigger things like inflammation.[8] In addition, there are many other biological processes and chemical pathways that link stress and emotions to pain.[5,9]

Repressed emotions can play a major role in chronic pain

As we’ve learned already, there are strong links between stress, emotions, and physical pain.

But it’s not just the obvious emotions that we have big reactions to that can influence pain. Researchers are also finding that the feelings we deny, push away, or hide can also be problematic when it comes to pain.

Often, it can feel easier, better, and even safer to avoid a hard emotion instead of fully experiencing it. And while this is an understandable reaction to life’s many challenges (and an extremely common one at that), experts are beginning to learn more and more about how unresolved and repressed emotions affect the body.

When we avoid or push our emotions away and don’t let ourselves feel them, it can actually result in physical effects. Repressed emotions appear to be a barrier to good health and may even shorten our lifespans.[10,11]

One of the risks of suppressing our emotions is increased pain. In fact, inappropriate emotional regulation is a risk factor for developing chronic pain.[12] Emotional suppression, and the desire to express an emotion but failing to do so, has been linked to more severe pain.[13,14] Holding back emotions is also linked to worry, rumination, and helpless feelings regarding pain.[13]

Essentially, the more we avoid and push away our feelings, the more likely we are to experience pain.

What is important to understand about emotional suppression and pain is that it’s not just the big stuff and the major life stressors that are important; the little stuff can make an impact on our health too. Studies suggest that even lingering negative emotions from minor daily stressors can impact our health a decade later.[15]

But the good news is that when we address and express our emotions (whether from big life events or small daily hassles, whether from the past or the current day), we have the power to improve our health and find relief from symptoms like pain.

The healing potential of addressing your stress and emotions

As we’ve covered so far, it is clear that stress and emotions can contribute to and exacerbate physical pain. But there is great news to be found here; by empowering yourself with this information, you can take charge of the healing process and support your body in breaking free from pain.

Researchers have found time and time again that strategies that help people to reduce stress and accept, express, reappraise, and manage emotions can help them to reduce pain and improve their ability to function.[7,10,13,16-18]

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), emotional awareness training, acceptance-based therapies, stress-reduction techniques, and relaxation strategies are all effective in reducing pain, reducing muscle tension, improving mood, and improving function in people with chronic pain.[7,16,17,19]

Ultimately, researchers believe that people who are able to authentically express and manage their feelings are also able to find more relief from discomfort and pain.[10,19]

I encourage you to take that information in for a moment. There is a whole bunch of evidence showing that when you learn to manage stress and emotions, you can find significant relief from pain and discomfort. How inspiring and hopeful is that?

It is possible to break free from your pain. And luckily, you can fill your toolbox with a variety of therapies, practices, and tools to help you on this journey to pain relief.

Tapping: an important tool to add to your pain relief toolbox

If you are looking for a safe, inexpensive, effective technique that has amazing results when it comes to relieving pain, then you’ll want to give Tapping a try. That’s because Tapping is designed to help you address and release emotions and stressors, like the ones that may be connected to your pain.

Tapping helps us to calm down the brain, release stress, and let go of pent-up emotions. As a result, Tapping helps the brain to relax and to turn down signals that lead to difficult symptoms like pain in our bodies.[20-22] Just as an example, research has shown Tapping to decrease the stress hormone cortisol that can trigger inflammation.[20]

Interested in learning more about the science behind Tapping? Go here.

Research suggests that Tapping can help reduce pain

Now every person is unique, and so is their pain. And there aren’t any broad promises that can be made about how Tapping will work for you. But I can tell you that I have seen the powerful effects of Tapping for pain over and over again in my career.

In addition to all the personal experiences I’ve witnessed throughout the years, there’s also a whole body of research that supports the use of Tapping for pain relief.

Studies have shown it to help reduce pain in veterans with PTSD, healthcare workers, the general public, and people with chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, and “frozen shoulder” syndrome for example.[23-28]

And Tapping isn’t just helpful for the symptom of pain itself. Tapping has also been shown to help people feel more in control of their pain, cope better, and find relief from the psychological effects linked to pain such as stress, anxiety, and depression.[23,29]

So, whether you are looking for instant pain relief, are hoping to address stress or frustration over your symptoms, or want to help your brain and body relax so that you can restore your health from the inside out – Tapping can support you. 

Head to the Tapping Solution app to try Tapping for yourself

Tapping is a simple, easy technique that you can learn to do from the comfort of your own home whenever you need to relax, find peace, release emotions or thoughts, and get relief from physical symptoms.

If you are new to Tapping, don’t worry. We’ve gathered all the resources you need within the Tapping Solution App to help you learn the basics, get started, and begin to break free from your pain.

In the app, you’ll find Tapping meditations that can help you to:

  • Find relief from painful symptoms
  • Release stress and chronic tension
  • Express repressed or hidden emotions
  • Acknowledge the frustration of living with pain
  • Address the impact of events past or present
  • Explore your diagnosis and when symptoms first appeared
  • Visualize yourself pain-free

Our 5-Day Pain Relief Challenge is a great place to start. In this challenge, you’ll learn more about the connections between stress and pain, release emotions you might be suppressing about your pain, and explore how Tapping can help you to reduce or eliminate your pain.

Remember, you have the power to break the cycles of pain, stress, and difficult emotions in your life. Healing is possible, and you can break free!

Head to the app now to get started.


  1. Girardi A, Curran MS. The comorbidity of chronic pain and depression. Nursing Made Incredibly Easy. 2019;17(2):50-54. doi:10.1097/01.NME.0000553093.86208.b7.
  2. Choi S, Nah S, Jang HD, Moon JE, Han S. Association between chronic low back pain and degree of stress: a nationwide cross-sectional study. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):14549. Published 2021 Jul 15. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-94001-1.
  3. Akhtar E, Ballew AT, Orr WN, Mayorga A, Khan TW. The Prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in Chronic Pain Patients in a Tertiary Care Setting: A Cross-Sectional Study. Psychosomatics. 2019;60(3):255-262. doi:10.1016/j.psym.2018.07.012.
  4. “Chronic Pain.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
  5. Lunde CE, Sieberg CB. Walking the Tightrope: A Proposed Model of Chronic Pain and Stress. Front Neurosci. 2020;14:270. Published 2020 Mar 26. doi:10.3389/fnins.2020.00270.
  6. “Emotional Stress: Warning Signs, Management, When to Get Help.” Cleveland Clinic.
  7. “Stress effects on the body.” American Psychological Association.
  8. Graham-Engeland JE, Song S, Mathur A, et al. Emotional State Can Affect Inflammatory Responses to Pain Among Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients: Preliminary Findings. Psychol Rep. 2019;122(6):2026-2049. doi:10.1177/0033294118796655.
  9. “The pain-anxiety-depression connection.” Harvard Medical School. 2010.
  10. Patel J, Patel P (2019) Consequences of Repression of Emotion: Physical Health, Mental Health and General Well Being. International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research. 2019;1(3):16-21. doi:10.14302/issn.2574-612X.ijpr-18-2564.
  11. Chapman BP, Fiscella K, Kawachi I, Duberstein P, Muennig P. Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up. J Psychosom Res. 2013;75(4):381-385. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.07.014.
  12. Koechlin H, Coakley R, Schechter N, Werner C, Kossowsky J. The role of emotion regulation in chronic pain: A systematic literature review. J Psychosom Res. 2018;107:38-45. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2018.02.002.
  13. Ghandehari O, Gallant NL, Hadjistavropoulos T, Williams J, Clark DA. The Relationship Between the Pain Experience and Emotion Regulation in Older Adults. Pain Med. 2020;21(12):3366-3376. doi:10.1093/pm/pnaa135.
  14. Wang C, Wong CCY, Lu Q. The Pain of Ambivalence over Emotional Expression. Int J Behav Med. 2018;25(2):216-222. doi:10.1007/s12529-017-9696-6.
  15. Leger KA, Charles ST, Almeida DM. Let It Go: Lingering Negative Affect in Response to Daily Stressors Is Associated With Physical Health Years Later. Psychol Sci. 2018;29(8):1283-1290. doi:10.1177/0956797618763097.
  16. Lumley MA, Schubiner H, Lockhart NA, et al. Emotional awareness and expression therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and education for fibromyalgia: a cluster-randomized controlled trial. Pain. 2017;158(12):2354-2363. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001036.
  17. Yarns BC, Lumley MA, Cassidy JT, et al. Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy Achieves Greater Pain Reduction than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Older Adults with Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain: A Preliminary Randomized Comparison Trial. Pain Med. 2020;21(11):2811-2822. doi:10.1093/pm/pnaa145.
  18. Haspert V, Wieser MJ, Pauli P, Reicherts P. Acceptance-Based Emotion Regulation Reduces Subjective and Physiological Pain Responses. Front Psychol. 2020;11:1514. Published 2020 Jun 30. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01514.
  19. Lumley MA, Schubiner H. Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy for Chronic Pain: Rationale, Principles and Techniques, Evidence, and Critical Review. Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2019;21(7):30. Published 2019 May 23. doi:10.1007/s11926-019-0829-6.
  20. Church D, Yount G, Brooks AJ. The effect of emotional freedom techniques on stress biochemistry: a randomized controlled trial. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2012;200(10):891-896. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e31826b9fc1.
  21. Andrade J, Feinstein D. Energy Psychology: Theory, Indications, Evidence. In: David Feinstein, Energy Psychology Interactive. Innersource, 2004.
  22. The Science and Research. The Tapping Solution. Accessed July 30, 2021.
  23. Ortner N, Palmer-Hoffman J, & Clond MA. Effects of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) on the reduction of chronic pain in adults: A pilot study. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 2014;6(2):14–21.doi:10.9769.EPJ.2014.6.2.NO.
  24. Geronilla L, Minewise L, Mollon P, McWilliams M, Clond M. EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Remediates PTSD and Psychological Symptoms in Veterans: A Randomized Controlled Replication Trial. Energy Psychology Journal. 2016;8(2):29-41.
  25. Bach D, Groesbeck G, Stapleton P, Sims R, Blickheuser K, Church D. Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Improves Multiple Physiological Markers of Health. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2019;24:2515690X18823691. doi:10.1177/2515690X18823691.
  26. Church, D., & Brooks, A. J. (2010). The effect of a brief EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) self-intervention on anxiety, depression, pain and cravings in healthcare workers. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 2010;9(5):40-44.
  27. Church D, Nelms J. Pain, Range of Motion, and Psychological Symptoms in a Population With Frozen Shoulder: A Randomized Controlled Dismantling Study of Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). Archives of Scientific Psychology, 2016;4(1):38-48.
  28. Brattberg, G. (2008). Self-administered EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) in individuals with fibromyalgia: A randomized trial. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 2008;7(4):30-35.
  29. Stapleton P, Chatwin H, Sheppard L, & McSwan, JThe lived experience of chronic pain and the impact of brief Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) group therapy on coping. Energy Psychology: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 2016;8(2):18–28.


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