Background and purpose: Stress contributes to headaches, and effective interventions for headaches routinely include relaxation training (RT) to directly reduce negative emotions and arousal. Yet, suppressing negative emotions, particularly anger, appears to augment pain, and experimental studies suggest that expressing anger may reduce pain. Therefore, we developed and tested anger awareness and expression training (AAET) on people with headaches.
Methods: Young adults with headaches (N = 147) were randomized to AAET, RT, or a wait-list control. We assessed affect during sessions, and process and outcome variables at baseline and 4 weeks after treatment.
Results: On process measures, both interventions increased self-efficacy to manage headaches, but only AAET reduced alexithymia and increased emotional processing and assertiveness. Yet, both interventions were equally effective at improving headache outcomes relative to controls.
Conclusions: Enhancing anger awareness and expression may improve chronic headaches, although not more than RT. Researchers should study which patients are most likely to benefit from an emotional expression or emotional reduction approach to chronic pain.
Clinical Psychology | Experimental Analysis of Behavior | Psychiatry and Psychology
Slavin-Spenny, O., Lumley, M. A., Thakur, E. R., et al. (2013). Effects of anger awareness and expression training versus relaxation training on headaches: a randomized trial. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 46(2), 181-192. doi: 10.1007/s12160-013-9500-z