How Does Fear of Pain Influence How You Experience Pain?
The anxiety or anticipation of fear may make one more sensitive to pain, and this phenomenon is common in people with chronic pain.
When we are under fear, the body transfers its healing abilities to fight the possible danger.
In this situation, it is natural for us to become hypervigilant, and we begin perceiving even the slightest sensations more intently.
Each of us responds to pain differently.
Fear and anxiety about pain may influence an individual’s variation in how much they feel pain.
Most people develop a negative feedback loop around pain based on what they hear, see, or experience.
The brain starts storing these stimuli as long-term memory, called fear conditioning.
These stimuli, such as smell, sound, weather, or images, act as triggers, and the individual begins to react to them negatively.
Depending upon the grade or severity of fear, people may experience a rise in blood pressure, tense feelings in the body, etc.
The Impact of Fear on our Brains
The amygdala is responsible for processing emotions and triggers the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response.
Constant worry and anxiety affect the individual’s cognition and emotions.
In a way, fear takes over the brain’s functioning, and we are mentally or physically hostages of this fear.
Learn more about how genes affect your personality and behavioral traits
Image: Parts of the brain involved in fear response
Inspired from https://science.howstuffworks.com/
How Does Genetics Influence Fear of Pain?
Though fear originates and is primarily influenced by the brain, your genes may also have a role to play in it.
Many specific genes, interactions between genes and environment, and biological pathways have been associated with pathological fear and anxiety disorders.
A study conducted to understand the fear of dental pain showed that while dental fear was 30% heritable, the fear of pain was 34% heritable.
A GWAS (genome-wide association study) was carried out in 2017 that included 990 individuals to dig more into the heritability and genetics of fear of pain.
This study aimed to identify the genes that could potentially drive the heritability of fear of pain.
The study reported 3 genome-wide significant genetic regions (loci) regulating fear of minor pain.
Numerous other genetic associations were observed for general fear of pain, fear of severe pain, and fear of medical/dental pain.
The researchers identified the following genes near the genetic loci associated with fear of pain:
The transmembrane protein 65 (TMEM65) gene was particularly interesting as it was associated with musculoskeletal pain in humans (pain due to muscle or bone injury).
This gene is also implicated in abnormal pain threshold and predisposition to neuropathic pain in rats.
Neuropathic pain can happen if your nervous system is damaged or not working correctly.
The NEFM and NEFL genes are also of interest since they regulate neuronal functioning, especially motor neurons.
Motor neurons are a type of brain cell located within the spinal cord and the brain.
They’re involved in transmitting pain signals.
Hence, these two genes may be related to the pain experience.
The study concluded that even though there were several associations observed for general fear of pain and fear of severe pain, the associations observed for fear of minor pain had stronger statistical evidence.
Recovering From Fear of Pain
The fear of pain is a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
There is no way to prevent fear of pain.
People with a greater fear of pain must find ways to alleviate this fear to live normal, productive lives.
Yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, visualization, and mindfulness activities are great examples of simple exercises you can do from the comfort of your home.
For people who require professional help for their pain-related fear, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and physical exercises may be helpful.
Exercise and fitness activities release serotonin and other chemicals in the brain that improve your mood and enable you to manage pain effectively.
With the right treatments, most people can manage their fear of pain.
- The fear and anticipation of pain may increase one’s sensitivity to chronic pain.
- Fear sets off a fight or flight response in the brain, and the body becomes overly sensitive to even the slightest sensations.
- Since we all respond to pain differently, fear and anxiety about it may influence how much pain one feels.
- Constantly worrying about pain affects the brain’s cognitive ability and the body’s normal functioning.
- Around 34% of the fear of pain is heritable, while the rest is influenced by the individual’s environment.
- A 2017 GWAS study has identified significant genetic associations for fear of minor pain and suggestive associations for general fear of pain and fear of major pain.
- Though there is no way we can prevent fear of pain, yoga, mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and physical exercise may help manage it.