In the previous post, we touched on ways to alleviate the negative psychological effects of chronic pain. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the connections between chronic pain and depression, and strategies for tackling both.

Chronic Pain and the Human Mind

It’s not surprising that many chronic pain warriors also face mental health challenges, particularly depression and anxiety. As we noted before, it can be difficult to stay positive when coping with long term pain.

Chronic pain can affect every aspect of life, making it difficult to work, spend time with family and friends, or pursue hobbies. Even with the most effective treatments, many  patients have to make significant (and often unexpected) changes to their routines, relationships, and long term plans in order to accommodate health issues that likely have no permanent cure.

The American Psychological Association also states that, aside from its effects on daily life, pain itself has “biological, psychological and emotional factors,” all of which must be identified and treated.

In addition, being in a constant state of pain from a physical ailment can, over time, affect the way the brain interprets pain, creating more overall sensitivity and, you guessed it, more overall pain.

Chronic Pain and Depression

Chronic pain and depression are closely linked and can become so intermingled that it is difficult to tell where one stops and the other begins.

Not only does chronic pain cause depression, but under-treated depression can also lead to chronic pain. In fact, “persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches…and pain for which no other cause can be diagnosed,” are cited by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America as indicators of depression.

So regardless of which came first, depression and chronic pain can feed into each other, resulting in a downward cycle of increasing suffering and decreasing quality of life.

Treating Both the Physical and Psychological Effects of Chronic Pain

Fortunately, research indicates that the mind-body connection can work in the patients’ favor as well, particularly when patients take an active role in treatment methods.

Common strategies you may consider include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to develop more effective coping techniques, set reasonable goals, help you deal with setbacks, and improve your overall outlook on life
  • Medications to help adjust mood-regulating chemicals in the body, which can be thrown out of balance by long term health issues
  • Meditation and relaxation practices to reduce stress and muscle tension
  • “Mindful” forms of exercise that focus on being present in the body during a set of low impact movements (ex. Yoga or Tai Chi)

Seeking treatment for mental health challenges does not mean that a person is weak or overly dramatic. This is particularly true for those handling long term pain disorders.

Chronic pain can affect every system in the body and cause serious upheaval in a patient’s life. Thus, treatments for the mind are no less important than treatments aimed at the body. They are, instead, integral to effective long term chronic pain management. You cannot completely take care of your body without also taking care of your mental and emotional health.

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