Pain and mental health are two very individual events that human beings experience. For example, two people with the exact same medical diagnosis and identical x-rays, may experience two very different levels of pain. Along the same lines, the mental health of two people who experience the same levels of pain, may have very different experiences with pain induced fear, depression or anxiety. Therefore, it is impossible to prescribe a universal cure or plan to combat the mental health struggles that come from acute pain and/or chronic pain. Anxiety and depression are often referred to as chronic pain’s unwanted companions, and I’m sure that many of you reading this can relate to that statement. Anxiety and depression can increase chronic pain, and pain can exacerbate these mental health issues. In the below article, we outline several different options to reduce the effects pain has on our mental health in the hopes that one of them may resonate with you, and help to improve your quality of life.
Understanding Mental Health & Chronic Pain
Pain and depression & anxiety have a connection relating to pathways in the brain. While depression can cause or intensify feelings of pain, pain can in turn cause feelings of depression. The two feed off of each other, causing what some may deem a vicious cycle. In some cases, the two are referred to as a double edged sword – that is, depression & anxiety can make a person more sensitive to their feelings of pain, catastrophizing it, while pain is isolating which can increase or worsen feelings of depression & anxiety. Both chronic pain and depression & anxiety can alter how our brains process pain signals. Often, and unfortunately, when one experiences chronic pain, their physical symptoms are noticed and treated, while their mental struggles remain overlooked.
Chronic pain is defined as any lasting pain that does not resolve in 6 months.
Symptoms of depression & anxiety may include:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Inability to sleep
- Trouble focusing
- Feeling tense, restless, worried or irritable
- Gaining or losing weight
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Managing Your Mental Health
One one of the first, and most important steps, when dealing with mental health & chronic pain is finding a provider that you trust. We encourage you not to give up until you have found a Doctor who listens to you, and will work on a treatment plan even if he or she cannot see where your pain is coming from.
Another option is to find a pain psychologist, or a therapist who specializes in treating people who experience chronic pain and its effects.
Treatment options with a pain psychologist or therapist may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), mindfulness training, clinical hypnosis or general supportive therapy.
Self-care and lifestyle changes such as participating in physical activities (that your body can handle without causing more damage), light aerobic exercise, remaining or becoming social, or getting a pet can also help reduce the burden chronic pain places on your mental health & well being.
Medication is another option, however we encourage you to do your research as many medications that reduce pain often trigger or cause depression & anxiety.
Here To Help
We hope that after reading this article you are feeling less alone in your chronic pain journey, and with the effects it can have on your mental health. We encourage you to join a support group, or speak to your friends and family members about how you are coping (or not coping) with your diagnosis, if you are comfortable doing so. We will continue to do our part in raising awareness, and being a champion for those individuals who struggle with mental health & chronic pain issues daily (over 50 million US adults)! If there is anything you think our team can do to help you on your journey, please reach out to our team.