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Living with Chronic Pain and the Impact on Mental Health

Nobody likes to be in physical pain. Accidently biting our tongue or stubbing a toe can make us feel enraged, frustrated, and incapacitated. Though the pain passes quickly, it can be difficult to relinquish that lingering emotional state.


If the worst injuries we’ve had are biting our tongues and stubbing our toes, we probably take physical health for granted. Most of us wake up without any serious pain problems. We eat breakfast, go to work, take care of the kids, see friends, or go to school. Because we don’t know any differently, our ability to move around with ease is taken for granted.

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Other people are not so lucky. A 2018 study by the CDC estimated that up to 50 million Americans have some type of chronic pain they have to manage each day. For these people, reoccurring and persistent pain is a part of everyday life. Many are traumatized, depressed, and anxious. Others have found ways to cope and minimize the pain. Read ahead for everything to know about chronic pain, along with the ways it can impact mental health.


Chronic Pain: Definition, Types, Treatments

Pain is the body’s normal response to inflammation, injury, or an illness. It is a sign that tells us something is wrong. Most pain is temporary, as our bodies are good at healing quickly. On the other hand, people with chronic pain (CPS) suffer from consistent, debilitating pain. This pain lasts 12 weeks and more, and it may feel like a burning or aching sensation in the area of injury. Causes of chronic pain vary, but are typically correlated to -


· Low back problems

· Arthritis

· Headache and migraine

· Multiple sclerosis

· Fibromyalgia

· Shingles

· Nerve damage

· Cancer


Treatments for chronic pain depend on the condition. Doctors may prescribe pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or narcotics, such as Vicodin and Oxycodone. Unfortunately, opioid-like medications are addictive and come with long-term side effects. They also can change brain structure and exacerbate anxiety and depression. Less addictive options and better for long-term usage include anticonvulsants such as gabapentin.


Exercise, eating properly, physical therapy, weight control programs, nerve stimulation, and other psychological therapies are more natural ways to treat pain. Many patients prefer to use a combination of alternative remedies and traditional treatments as a holistic approach.


Cannabis is another potential treatment for chronic pain. Many patients have had success with it, though it doesn’t come without its controversies. Opponents argue that it impacts cognition, memory, and health which can lead depression and anxiety with long-term usage.

Impact on Mental Health

Those with chronic pain are 3 times more likely to develop depression, irritability, mood fluctuations, and anxiety disorders. The psychological impact of pain on mental health is intense. Pain triggers the fight or flight response and causes an increase in heart rate and a prioritization of blood flow to muscles.


Because there is no recovery period, chronic pain can cause systemic and chemical brain changes that impact one’s psychological state. The increase in stress response can lead to other health problems such as heart issues or stomach problems. Treating the mental health problems associated with chronic pain is critical to avoid further health problems.


Chronic pain disrupts one’s day-to-day life. Those who are used to walking, running, and traveling can no longer do so. They may need to take medication every day or go back to the doctors once or twice a week. This can disrupt one’s emotional state and cause anyone to feel anxious and depressed. Nobody likes to feel incapacitated or unable to do the things they love.


Treating Mental Health in Conjunction with Chronic Pain

Those who suffer from chronic pain can feel helpless in their condition. Fortunately, there are many treatments and techniques to help handle the discomfort and improve one’s quality of life. These include –


· Antidepressant Medications – Antidepressants can help both chronic pain and depression due to the shared chemical messengers in the brain. Antidepressants are not addictive like narcotics and usually come with fewer side effects.

· Therapy – CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and Psychological Counseling (Psychotherapy) are effective methods that help patients learn coping mechanisms to deal with chronic pain. This may include changing thinking patterns and practicing mindfulness.

· Stress-Reduction Techniques – Alternative therapies such as exercise, meditation, and mindfulness are useful in treating chronic pain. Many overweight patients have lessened some of their chronic pain by adopting a healthy eating plan and losing weight. Experts believe weight loss puts less stress on the affected area, therefore decreasing the amount of pain. Healthy weight loss also optimizes patients’ energy levels, helps to gain a sense of control, and eases depression.

· Pain Rehabilitation Programs – A rehabilitation program is a team approach to treating chronic pain that typically includes both medical and psychiatric aspects.


If you are struggling with chronic pain, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Many people have utilized a series of treatments to help decrease symptoms and improve pain-associated mental health problems. They have learned to manage the pain so they can live happier, fuller lives doing the things they love.


Do you struggle with chronic pain, anxiety, or depression? If so, please Contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. We would be happy to set up an appointment for you.

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