Have Chronic Pain? Why it’s important to care for your mental health too.

For patients suffering from chronic pain, it can be easy to focus most of your energy on the pain itself. This often means avoiding anything that doesn’t seem important to your day-to-day life. It’s no wonder then that mental issues develop because of the strain that chronic pain places on the lives of people suffering from chronic pain. It’s not a failing on the part of the patient – it’s often because the pain simply draws attention away from everything else.  

Chronic pain can actually cause changes in the brain that negatively impact mental health, and people with depression are three times more likely to suffer chronic pain. In other words, it can be a vicious cycle. Chronic pain can trigger depression, but depression can also trigger chronic pain.

How do you know if you might be experiencing depression on top of your chronic pain? Symptoms of depression including the following:

  • Feeling sadness or hopelessness
  • Feeling guilt or worthlessness
  • Less interest in favorite activities or hobbies
  • Inability to focus
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Unexplained physical feelings including pain, fatigue, and digestive issues
  • Feeling tense, restless, worried, or irritated
  • Recurring thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm
  • Anxiety is also common and triggered by worry over the pain itself. Symptoms of anxiety can include feelings of nervousness, tension, restlessness, sense of impending panic or doom, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, fatigue, sweating, trembling, etc.
  • Physical symptoms like increased blood pressure

There are steps that you can take to reduce the impact of depression and anxiety, and they can even help reduce your chronic pain in some cases. You can start gradually by introducing one or two things from the list below:

  • Find an activity or hobby that is meaningful to you, and start engaging in it.
  • Stay socially engaged in-person – social isolation can make depression and chronic pain worse.
  • Explore different ways of participating in activities that have meaning to you. While physical activities like sports might not be an option, walks with friends and family members can also provide quality time.
  • Try using a meditation app, yoga, or breathing exercises to help with stress management.
  • Improve your quality of sleep. Sleep is when your body is best able to repair itself. Starting a sleep routine that might include taking a bath, doing yoga, or meditating before getting into bed can help your body know when it’s time to rest. It can also help to use softer warm-toned lights in the evening, and limit screen time an hour before bedtime.
  • Following an anti-inflammation diet can also help with chronic pain and fatigue. This means limiting processed foods, cured and red meats, refined starches, sugars, and sodas. Instead, increase your intake of foods rich in antioxidants, eat mostly fruits and vegetables. This can help replenish the brain’s neurotransmitters, helping you to feel better.
  • Try low-impact exercise. This can help boost endorphins, provide some pain relief, maintain muscle tone, and improve your overall sense of well-being. Pain tends to cause people to limit their movement, but low-impact exercise can help reduce pain
  • Join a support group. Anyone living with chronic pain needs emotional support. Joining a  support group and meeting with others who are living the same experience as you are can help you not only feel less alone but helps improve your mental health as well. You can even participate virtually in some groups if travel isn’t an option.
  • Adopt a pet. If having a pet is an option for you, pet therapy can provide companionship, get you out of the house for exercise, and reduce feelings of isolation.

Whatever avenue you take, start with something that feels manageable to you. It might take a while to learn a new hobby or establish a new routine. The point is to pay more attention to your mental health. The great news is that improving your mental health can help improve your chronic pain, and that’s certainly something to look forward to!