Understanding How Chronic Pain Impacts Mental Health

Unfortunately, chronic pain and mental health issues often go hand-in-hand. Find out why this is and what you can do to manage it.

Chronic pain can be relentlessly challenging to live with day in and day out. What once started as a minor ache can become a severe symptom that takes over your world. Your entire life can become ruled by either being in a state of pain or fear that the pain could strike at any moment.

These experiences inevitably impact your stress levels, productivity, sleep, outlook on life, relationships, and so on. That impact can, in turn, lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety and substance abuse. At Paracelsus Recovery, we can help you effectively minimise your chronic pain and its mental health consequences. Read on to find out more.

What (Exactly) is Chronic Pain?

Technically, chronic pain is defined as persistent pain that carries on for longer than twelve weeks despite medication or treatment. Common examples of chronic pain conditions include:

  • Arthritis: involves painful and chronic inflammation of your joints.
  • Back and neck pain: severe back and neck pain can be caused by injuries, poor sleeping position, muscle strain, heavy lifting, and various medical conditions.
  • Endometriosis or uterine fibroids: These conditions involve the menstrual cycle and can cause significant and debilitating pain.
  • Fibromyalgia: This condition affects how the brain and spinal cord process signals, leading to pain and other symptoms such as fatigue and problems with memory, sleep, and mood.
  • Migraines: Chronic migraines are headaches that can be painful and incredibly debilitating. People with chronic migraines experience these headaches 15 or more days a month for three months or longer.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): the immune system begins to attack the protective covering on nerves which can lead to pain, nerve damage, and dysregulated communication between the brain and body.

Worryingly, studies show that 1 in 5 of us live with chronic pain, and the ratio of mental health issues is 4x greater in those suffering from chronic pain than those who are not.

How Does Chronic Pain Impact Mental Health?

Studies show that chronic pain is associated with a never-ending list of mental health conditions. For example, 35 – 45% of people with chronic pain experience depression. Other studies show that up to 35% of chronic pain patients also have a comorbid anxiety disorder. Research also shows links between chronic pain and obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and burnout disorder.

Perhaps most notably, chronic pain is highly correlated with substance abuse issues and opioid dependency, as many individuals are prescribed highly addictive opioids for pain management. While these medications can be a great aid in the short term, they are not designed for long-term use. Thus, if you need them for that, it can quickly lead to dependency.

Chronic pain is highly correlated with mental health issues because pain is, well, painful. It wears us out and steals our attention away from our jobs and loved ones. It can be infuriating not knowing what is happening or how to relieve our suffering. We can find ourselves stuck in a cycle of stress, pain, fear, and exhaustion. As a result, we start to feel increasingly vulnerable, helpless and alienated from others. These mental health effects can exacerbate pain further, making it even more difficult to manage.

Effective Wellbeing Management for Chronic Pain

The constant discomfort and stress caused by chronic pain can be exhausting. Above all else, try to show yourself as much compassion as possible when it comes to the elements of your life, job, and relationships that the pain inhibits. Other tips our experts recommend include:

  • Focus on Stress-Management Techniques

Chronic pain is undoubtedly stressful, but stress will make chronic pain worse. It can cause your muscles to tense or spasm, which increases pain. When you feel stressed, levels of the hormone cortisol will also rise, and that can cause increased inflammation and pain over time.

However, the trick to dealing with stress is to have coping strategies in place for when those emotions become overwhelming. For example, minimise alcohol or drug intake, eat a nutritious diet, exercise (however much you can) and try to engage in relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or meditation.

  • Be Mindful of Your Inner-Dialogue

Countless studies show that a positive outlook on life and ourselves can improve chronic pain symptoms and mental health conditions. If you feel frustrated about the chronic pain you are experiencing, try to focus on the improvements you’ve made (e.g., if the pain is less today than yesterday or you feel better than you did a week ago.) Be careful not to minimise your pain because it is also essential to respect and honour the fact that living in constant suffering is not easy. Instead, please do what you can to focus on how it will improve.

For example, instead of thinking of yourself as powerless and completely unable to deal with the pain, try to remind yourself that this is highly uncomfortable, but you are remarkably strong for bearing it. Then, remind yourself that you are not powerless, these processes take a lot of time, but you are working towards finding a way of dealing with it.

  • Find a Support System

In addition, going through the daily struggle of your pain can be extremely trying, especially if you’re doing it alone. Try to reach out to others in the same position who can share and understand your highs and lows. There are numerous support groups for chronic pain sufferers, and it is essential to feel like part of a community when we struggle. Knowing that we are not alone in our pain can profoundly impact our physical and psychological health.

Finally, if you have developed any symptoms of depression, anxiety or substance abuse issues, speak to a professional as soon as possible who can help you manage these symptoms before they escalate. In particular, watch out for any signs of suicidal ideation or if a substance abuse dependency is forming. Please allow yourself to seek the help you need and deserve in these instances. Contact your family GP or a treatment centre, or go to your local emergency room as soon as possible.

Paracelsus Recovery

At Paracelsus Recovery, our chronic pain treatment programmes are comprehensive and all-encompassing. Healing the mind-body connection lies at the core of our treatment method. We will help you uncover and treat the root causes of your pain through functional medicine, intensive laboratory tests, nutritional supplements, and biochemical restoration. In nurturing the link between body and mind, we make sure to give you the greatest chance of a robust recovery.

We work primarily with UHNW families whose mental health challenges often go unnoticed because of the misconception that financial security guarantees mental stability. We only treat one client at any time, provide the strictest confidentiality, and our international team of highly qualified professionals works with the client 24/7.

To know more, please follow us on Twitter or contact us directly at info@paracelsus-recovery.com.

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