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What Is Anguish?

Anguish is one of the most painful emotions felt by humans; the word means extreme pain or distress. It is one of those feelings that hurts so deeply that words cannot describe it. Dealing and coping with this emotion can be very difficult, but there are things you can do to help lessen the pain and come out on the other side.

Wondering How Anguish Is Really Affecting You?

Anguish is often referred to as emotional distress and can encompass a number of different emotions, such as trauma, grief, sorrow, fear, and anxiety. Simply put, the anguish can refer to being in severe pain, and it is important to note that anguish can be mental and physical. It is a reasonable, typical, and even a rational response to a horrible situation. Someone may experience anguish when going through a divorce or through the loss of a loved one. These examples of grief have the potential to wreak havoc on your well-being. A traumatic event can change you as a person, especially if anguish goes on for long enough.

Given the immense complexity of this emotion, it's no wonder so many people have difficulty coping with it. Anguish often comes on the tail of a traumatic event- making coping even more challenging. Being unable to cope with anguish can lead to other mental conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Getting treatment or working with a licensed counselor can help you cope with and overcome the feelings of anguish you are experiencing.

Anguish vs. Pain

Many health professionals like to make a distinction between pain and anguish - effectively making them two different things. Doctors may reserve the word pain for physical instances and use the anguish definition to refer to mental distress and suffering. The logic for this is that the nociceptors, sensory receptors for pain, are active in cases of physical pain, but are not used in cases of depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, to the ordinary person, pain is a more generic term, and we use it to describe both physical pain and psychological distress. We even use similar metaphors to describe physical and mental traumas; weapons are some of the most common metaphors that you will see. For example, someone might describe the physical pain in his or her body as "shooting or stabbing," while someone else will describe his or her response to a situation as being "stabbed in the heart."

Semantics aside, people can feel a sense of anguish both physically and mentally. What does anguish mean to you? To most people, pain is a broad term and anguish is merely a level of it. No matter the area it exists in, anguish can have a negative impact on various aspects of life.

Mental Anguish vs. Physical Anguish

Before discussing the specific ways anguish can impact a human, it is useful to highlight the difference between mental and physical anguish. Mental anguish is usually the response to an event that is considered traumatizing. The two examples listed earlier can lead to depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Some people may feel frightened because of a particular event, such as a person who has been a victim of domestic violence. Regardless of the type of response, it is detrimental to the individual's state of mind.

On the other hand, physical anguish can be a little different. Physical anguish can be a response to a mental problem or issue. For example, a case of depression could ruin the appetite of someone and lead to starvation. Perhaps the emotional distress produces a feeling of actually dying inside. However, physical anguish doesn't always need to be associated with mental anguish. Someone can experience physical anguish by accidentally slamming a door on his or her fingers. While painful, an event such as this most likely won't have the same lasting impact as one that produces mental anguish would.


The Effects of Anguish

Anguish has the potential to change people. Here are some of the ways that it can affect you and your personality:


Motivation is often one of the first areas of the brain that mental anguish attacks. When people are depressed, the desire to do anything is diminished. Depression caused by anguish can impact an individual's drive to do basic tasks, like waking up and going to work.

Now it's understandable that someone may need to take personal time off work, especially if it's due to anguish brought on by the death of a loved one. However, long-term and untreated depression can spiral out of control and result in a variety of different things. Using employment as an example, it can result in:

  • decreased productivity

  • more absences

  • reduced likelihood of retaining a job

Since mental anguish and depression can prey on a person's motivation to work, it is something that needs careful attention. It can potentially cause someone to lose their job, which affects their livelihood. If the bills are not being paid, more problems will stack up on top of anguish.


Attitude is also another factor that gets affected by anguish. Even the most positive people can be prone to a shift in attitude following a tragedy. Pessimism can outweigh any sense of optimism for people dealing with anguish, and pessimism can sometimes manifest as self-loathing too. An individual may blame themselves for an event or may even feel alone and desolate. These feelings can also negatively impact their social life.

In times of distress, it's common for people to push away the people that care about them. Someone may try to offer a helping hand, but the desire to be alone overrides the possibility of meaningful social interaction. Your voice and mannerism may be affected as well, and there is the risk of saying something that you don't truly mean. Unfortunately, this can discourage friends and family from trying to help you.


Mimi Rothschild

Mimi Rothschild is the Founder and CEO of the Global Grief Institute which provides Certification training programs forGrief Coach, Trauma Coach, End of Life Coach, and Children's Grief Coach. She is a survivor who has buried 3 of her children and her husband of 33 years. She is available for speaking engagements and comments to the press on any issue surrounding thriving after catastrophic loss. MEDIA INQUIRIES:

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