Rejection hurts, both emotionally and physically.

Anyone who has ever been turned down by a client or experienced the surge of anger and dismay that swells up after getting bad feedback knows first-hand that pain and emotion are linked.

Neuroscience research shows that emotional pain and physical pain share similar pathways. "The areas of our brain that are associated with sensory perception, they share real estate with the areas of our brain that are involved in the processing of emotions," says Stanford University psychologist, Dr. Beth Darnall in an interview with Healthline

Now a new study demonstrates that over-the-counter medications may influence how people process hurt feelings, dulling painful emotions. 

The recently released report, "Can Over-the-Counter Pain Medications Influence Our Thoughts and Emotions?" in the Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences examined the broader psychological effects of common painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. 

Women who took over-the-counter pain medicine reported fewer hurt feelings following painful experiences, such as being excluded from a group or recalling a time they had been betrayed. Men, on the other hand, showed heightened emotion. 

While shielding yourself from the emotional highjacking that results from rejection, bullying, and simply dealing with difficult people sounds great, taking OTC painkillers also dulled emotion in potentially concerning ways.

For example, those who took a dose of pain medication: 

  • Showed less empathy
  • Made more memory errors
  • Were willing to accept less money for an item

The implications of these findings "are alarming", says lead investigator Kyle Ratner who is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Much more research is needed to understand the relationship between over-the-counter pain medication and forms of psychological pain.

For now? Become more mindful of how negative emotions affect both your mind and body. Start to learn your patterns, as well as what triggers you. Pay attention to how what you put in your body -- whether that's food, medication, or anything else -- influences your mood. 

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Published on: Mar 7, 2018
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