Ask Golden Willow

Which comes first, emotional or physical distress?


Dear Ted: I have had different losses in my life and have recently been diagnosed with physical issues with my lower back that cause enormous pain and exhaustion. This might seem like a silly question, but I wanted to ask as nobody seems to ever talk about this issue. Does physical pain cause mental and emotional pain? Thanks, Sue

Dear Sue, This is a great question and I agree with you that there is very little discussion about how physical issues have an impact on your emotional well-being.

You are correct that the physical and emotional realms of your life interact closely with one another. Your emotional well-being can play into your physical health while your physical health intermingles with your emotional health.

I don't know which one comes first as they both make up your entire self. This is why holistic health is so important. It takes into account all the factors that are part of your health: emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual and psychological.

Physical pain has an enormous impact on your emotional well-being. Pain is exhausting and can lead to levels of hopelessness, and helplessness can lead to depression. Pain sets your brain into a hyper-vigilance gear; the brain is on alert as it tries to figure out how to get the pain to dissipate. Struggling with pain can also lead to a high level of anxiety since you don't know what the future holds: will the present pain go away, increase, never go away or cause other problems?

The loss of who you used to be leads to a grief process that is, often, disenfranchised. Nobody talks about the grief process resulting from the loss of health.

Often, you may find yourself in denial that you have physical problems, and you may think to yourself that it is not that bad or that you'll get better. When you don't get better, acceptance that your physical health has changed may follow. Then you will find you move in and out of phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Along with the famous five stages of grief, you will have the opportunity to redefine your lifestyle: how you navigate the world around you and how to take part in your life in a new way. You may not know what comes first when it comes to physical and emotional distress, but you can focus on both and consciously observe and honor your process. Give care to both your emotional and physical needs because you deserve the highest quality of life possible. I wish you a healthy and conscious path in your life.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Ted Wiard, LPCC, CGC, Founder of Golden Willow Retreat at (575) 776-2024 or

This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.