3 years ago

3 Anger Management Strategies To Try When Back Pain Makes You Angry

Suffering from persistent back pain can make even the calmest person angry, however you have the power to change that and that power is all in your mind.

anger management strategies

We've all been there right?

Your back is killing you and you're in a foul mood.

And you feel so angry and frustrated that you just want to scream.

And this anger and frustration is understandable because living with chronic pain is tough. 

However, if you do feel angry on a regular basis because of your back pain then you really need to do something about it.

Because getting angry and stressed will make you tense and will only make your back pain worse.

And it can also put a strain on your relationships with your friends and family.

Leaving you without the support network you need to be able to manage your chronic pain.

So try incorporating the 3 anger management strategies featured here into your ways of thinking.

As not only will they help to reduce your pain levels, they'll also make you feel calmer.

And make you a lot more pleasant to be around!

Why Does Chronic Pain Make You Angry?

Why does back pain make you angry?

Why does back pain make you want to pull your hair out?

The idea that being in constant pain will make you angry seems pretty obvious right? 

I mean it's not just pain in your back is it? It's also a massive pain in the ass! 

So it's no surprise that anger is an emotion that is so common among people with chronic lower back pain. 

But the thing is it's not just the physical pain that makes you angry.

How you think about that pain also plays a huge part. 

For instance, one 2012 review of studies on the link between chronic pain and anger found that the following 3 reasons were the main causes of this anger:

  • 1. Goal frustration - you get angry when you think your pain stops you from doing what you want to do in life.
  • 2. Blaming others - when you blame other people or external situations and events for your pain it breeds resentment, bitterness, and anger.
  • 3. The feeling of injustice - chronic pain is random and unfair but feeling sorry for yourself will just leave you angry and frustrated.

So it's easy to get the hump and think 'Why the hell do I have to deal with this sh.... struggle every day?'.

Especially when it seems everyone else is fine and dandy.

But by getting into negative thought patterns and letting your pain make you angry you are only causing yourself even more problems.

Because studies have also shown that by becoming angry you are highly likely to increase the levels of back pain that you feel.

And by becoming angry and bitter you can make life a misery for your close friends and family.

Which may force them to withdraw their support, which is something we all desperately need.

Because having supportive relationships has been shown to be great for the long-term health, well-being, and quality of life of a person with chronic pain.

So it's really important to nip this anger in the bud if you are going to get rid of persistent back pain.

And the good news is there are 3 proven anger management strategies you can use that can stop this anger before it develops which are:

  • Using CBT techniques to reframe how you think about your pain experience from the negative to the positive.
  • Learning to accept your pain and negative thoughts rather than fighting against them.
  • Distracting your attention away from the pain.

And don’t worry these aren't complicated therapies or techniques.

They are just simple shifts in thinking that anyone can do.

1. Using CBT For Anger

Break the cycle of negative thoughts

Break the cycle of negative thoughts

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a way of identifying negative thoughts that may be harming you, challenging them, and reframing them in a more positive way.

The idea is that unhelpful behaviors and emotional distress stem from negative thoughts and beliefs that you have about something.

So in the case of persistent back pain your negative thoughts about this pain may be causing you to become angry and also not behave in ways that would help you to manage it.

This negative thinking usually takes shape in the following 3 forms:

  • Having false beliefs about your pain that hold you back from living the life you want to live.
  • Feeling sorry for yourself which takes away your power to manage your pain. 
  • Having catastrophic thoughts where you always imagine a worst-case scenario for the pain you are feeling no matter how unlikely this is in reality, making you anxious and fearful.

And all 3 will leave you feeling helpless, angry, and frustrated at your situation.

However, they are very rarely an accurate reflection of reality, so with the use of CBT techniques they can be challenged and changed into something more positive.

And this has been shown to be effective in many studies.

For instance, an analysis of 50 studies of people with anger issues found that those that had CBT treatment did better at reducing their anger levels than 76% of the untreated patients. 

So it's well worth giving a try.

And to do so you need to work through the 3 stages in the CBT process which are:

  • 1. Identifying any negative thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that you hold about your pain.
  • 2. Challenging these thoughts using evidence, experience and logic to see if they hold true or not.
  • 3. Reframing these thoughts in a more positive and accurate way using the evidence.

Step 1 - Identify Negative Thoughts

positive thinking

Identifying your negative thoughts about pain can be difficult as many times they become automatic.

So you need to really consciously work at it to make them know.

And a good way to do this is by keeping a pain and anger diary.

So at scheduled intervals each day note down:

  • How much pain you're in on a scale of 1-10.
  • The levels of anger you're feeling on a scale of 1-10.
  • What you are thinking at that moment.
  • The things you are doing.
  • What is happening around you.

After a few weeks you will begin to notice patterns in the thoughts you are having and how they relate to your levels of pain and anger.

And these are the negative thoughts you will try to change.

It also has the added benefit of highlighting behaviors and activities which may be contributing to your anger, which you can then limit or cut out.

And writing down how you feel is a positive way to release any anger and frustration you are holding. 

For instance, one study found that chronic pain patients that kept a pain journal over a 9 week period had far greater control over their pain and anger levels than those that didn’t.

Step 2 - Challenge Negative Thoughts

Once you have a list of negative thoughts and beliefs about your pain that are making you angry it's time to challenge them.

To do this you need to look at each one closely and work out if it's actually true or not.

Because many times our brains can trick us into believing things that are far removed from reality.

And these false beliefs can really hold us back and make us angry.

So do some research to educate yourself and use a mixture of the knowledge you pick up plus your own experience and the experiences of others to really put this negative beliefs under scrutiny.

And once you've done this you're ready for the final step, which is reframing these negative thoughts into positive ones.

Step 3 - Reframe Negative Thoughts

positive thinking

To change your negative thoughts you need to disprove them and replace them with a more accurate statement that is based in reality.

So go through each negative thought on your list and write down a counter statement that puts things in a more positive light.

These are called positive coping statements and you want to replace each negative thought in your head with one of these over time.

So for example if you have the negative thought that 'I won't be able to make it through the day today because my pain is so bad'.

This is going to leave you feeling angry, helpless and frustrated.

However, it's not really true because no matter how bad your pain has gotten before, you've always been able to manage.

So you can use that knowledge to change it to 'My pain is bad today but it's been worse before and I've survived, so I'll be fine'.

This thought is more accurate and will immediately leave you feeling calmer and more in control than before.

So go through each negative thought and write a positive coping statement next to it that debunks it.

And when your pain is making you angry read through them.

As over time you will internalise these positive thoughts until they become second nature.

2. Learning To Accept Pain & Negative Thoughts

acceptance pain

The Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) method takes a different approach to CBT but ultimately aims to achieve the same thing.

Which is to limit the hold that pain and negative thoughts and beliefs can have over you.

So instead of trying to reframe the negative thoughts you are having, you instead accept them as an inevitable part of the whole pain experience.

And by accepting them you can also keep your distance from them and not allow them to affect your behaviors or emotions.

So these thoughts will no longer be able to make you angry.

And while learning to accept your pain and the negative thoughts that come along with it may seem like giving up, it's really not.

Because all you're giving up is the constant struggle that will ultimately make you pain worse and make you even more angry.

And it's effective too, having been shown in various studies to reduce anger and increase the quality of life for people with chronic pain.

While also helping them to continue with their daily physical activities in spite of their pain.

Now this acceptance takes a bit of mental flexibility and practice to get right.

But there are 3 techniques you can to use to help you which are:

  • Acceptance of your pain and the negative thoughts that come with it.
  • Using mindfulness to observe and become aware of your pain and negative thoughts but not engaging with them.
  • Identifying your life values so you have clear goals that will push you to live your best life despite the pain.

1. Accepting Your Pain & Negative Thoughts

Accepting your pain and negative thoughts isn't about giving in to them.

It's simply expecting them to be there, observing them, but choosing not to engage with them.

This way they can't have any influence or power over your moods or behaviors, and this will greatly reduce the levels of anger and frustration you feel.

And when you accept that persistent pain is a part of your life, it allows you to tackle it in a far more positive way.

Which gives you the gusto and confidence to continue on with your daily activities in spite of this pain.

So the next time you find yourself feeling angry or sorry for yourself take a step back and see it for what it is.

And learn to let it go.

2. Being Mindful

Being mindful and present is another great way of observing pain in your body and negative thoughts but without engaging with either.

As it allows you to:

  • Observe and accept the thoughts about pain that run through your mind but actively choose not to engage with them.
  • Move your focus away from the pain you are experiencing and towards happier and calmer thoughts.

So it teaches you to be aware of what's happening in each and every moment and just allowing it to be without making any judgement on it.

This will allow you to move away from your pain and view it from the outside rather than allowing it to overwhelm you.

And this will give you a more balanced relationship with your pain.

Rather than automatically reacting to it in a negative way, which only causes anger and more pain.

So this is a really effective tool to have for people that live with chronic pain.

And it's great for learning to accept your pain too.

With one study finding that a group of people with chronic pain that practiced mindfulness were more able to accept their pain than another group that were treated with physiotherapy and medication alone.

So becoming present and mindful will really help you to become more positive and less angry and frustrated.

3. Identifying Your Life Values

It can be hard to accept your pain and carry on with your daily activities when you're having a bad pain day.

Because that nagging ache makes you feel like everything is beyond you.

And this will only lead to anger and frustration at not being able to do the things you want to do.

So how can you get over this hurdle and push on despite being in pain?

One way is to sit down and identify your life goals.

These are the big ones that you need to work towards if you are going to live a happy life full of meaning and purpose.

And having these long-term goals set out in front of you can really help you to get stuck into activities even when your back is in bits.

Because these small daily activities are the ones that are taking you closer and closer towards your long-term goal.

And this goal is so important to you that you won't allow your pain to stop you.

So in this way it overrides your negative thoughts and feelings about pain and drives you one.

And will help you to stay more active and live the life you want to live, making you much more content and a lot less angry.

So work out what you want from life, work out how you're going to get there, and don't let pain or negative thoughts get in your way!

3. Distracting Yourself Away From The Pain

The final way to become less angry at your pain is to reduce the amount of pain you feel by distracting your mind away from it.

After all, the less pain you're in the more you'll be able to do and the less angry and frustrated you'll be right?

And the good news is that by consciously distracting your brain away from the pain you can greatly reduce it's impact on you.

This is because your brain only has a limited capacity to take in the sensory information that constantly surrounds you.

So it has to filter this information and only concentrate on what it thinks is the most important.

And as regular pain is a sign of imminent danger, pain signals are at the front of the queue for attention.

However, with persistent pain this isn't true, as this type of pain poses no immediate threat.

But your brain still automatically thinks that it does, so it gives it more importance than it deserves and allows it to grow and intensify.

So if you give your brain something else to focus on instead you can move it's attention away from the pain.

Because when you are absorbed in another activity your brain doesn't have the capacity to listen to the pain signals as well.

Which stops them from getting through and results in you feeling less pain and in some cases can even make you forget about your pain completely.

This was shown in a study in Hamburg that found that participants felt less pain when strong heat was applied to their arms if they were simultaneously concentrating on another task.

So if you can distract your brain for a certain period of time you can give yourself temporary relief and help to dissolve any anger.

Ways To Distract Your Brain

There are many different ways that you can go about distracting yourself from the pain you are feeling in your body.

Some examples include:

  • Focusing on your breathing.
  • Meditating.
  • Going for a walk.
  • Exercising and playing sports.
  • Reading a book.
  • Listening to music.
  • Watching a scary movie.
  • Doing something that makes you laugh.
  • Hanging out with your loved ones.
  • Getting into a flow state with a hobby.
  • Play video games.

And the good news is that most of these activities will be things you enjoy doing.

So they will encourage the release of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkiller.

As well as releasing dopamine and oxytocin which will put you in a great mood.

And give you the positive outlook you need to be able to manage and get rid of persistent back pain and the anger that can accompany it.

Rounding Up

So after reading through this article I hope you can see the danger of allowing persistent back pain to make you angry.

As it can become a vicious circle where being in pain can make you angry but becoming angry will only lead to you experiencing more pain. 

And this anger can also alienate your family and friends, leaving you without a support network that is vital for your well-being.

So it's a problem that needs addressing.

Luckily back pain doesn't have to lead to anger and frustration.

As by using the 3 anger management techniques in this article you can change your ways of thinking and lessen pains effect on you.

So give them a go and see how you get on.

After all, no one wants to feel angry and frustrated all the time.

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I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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