why you feel emotional pain in your chest when your feelings have been hurt?
Terms like “heartache” and “gut wrenching” are not just metaphors — they describe both physical and emotional pain.
If you feel heartache, for example, what you are experiencing is emotional stress and the resulting stress-induced sensations in your chest — muscle tightness, an increased heart rate, uncomfortable stomach activity, and shortness of breath.
Physical & emotional pain are connected
You may be a bit surprised to learn that emotional pain triggers the exact brain regions that physical pain lights up.
How do emotions trigger physical sensations? A 2009 study conducted at the University of Arizona and the University of Maryland found that activity in a brain region that regulates emotional reactions (the anterior cingulate cortex) helps explain how an emotional insult can trigger a biological cascade.
During a stressful experience your brain’s anterior cingulate cortex increases the activity of your Vagus nerve. This huge nerve is the pathway connecting your brain stem to your neck, chest and abdomen.
When this nerve is over stimulated, it can cause pain, abdominal “butterflies,” and even nausea.
Heartache is not the only way emotional pain and physical pain intersect in our brain.
Other studies show that even feeling emotional pain on behalf of another person — that is, having empathy for that person — can also influence your pain perception. And this effect is NOT limited to humans. A recent paper published in Science Magazine revealed that when a mouse sees its cage mate in agony, that mouse’s sensitivity to physical pain increases. But when it comes into close contact with a friendly, unharmed mouse, its sensitivity to pain is reduced.
A recent brain scan study of humans supported the finding in mice — showing that simple acts of social kindness, such as holding hands, can blunt the brain’s response to threats of physical pain, and thus actually lessen the pain.
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Posted by Jill Ammon-Wexler