Chronic Pain & Mental Health

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The Neuroscience of Pain
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Pain Rehab
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Family & Parenting

Pain is just as much a symptom of the mind as it is a symptom of the body. Given this mind-body connection, it should come as no surprise that chronic pain conditions and psychological state deeply affect one another. Pain, depression, and anxiety feed off of each other, often forming a harmful cycle. For someone living with chronic pain, it may be tempting to try and just ignore negative emotions. Unfortunately, this can cause both physical and psychological symptoms to fester. Each of these symptoms are very real and require concrete treatment.

 Anxiety & Depression 

Many of us use the terms anxious and depressed to describe the ups and downs that we experience daily. However, both of these terms also describe clinical conditions that can severely impact functioning. 

Depression– Although we often use this term to describe ourselves when we’re feeling ‘bummed out’, this clinically defined disorder is characterized by persistent negative emotions, accompanied by significant trouble completing daily tasks.

Anxiety– Most everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time, whether taking a difficult test, watching a scary movie, or performing in front of a crowd. Someone with an anxiety disorder, though, may experience similar feelings long after they’ve finished their performance or when simply brushing their teeth. For people with an anxiety disorder, these feelings of worry, fear, and agitation interfere with their everyday lives.

Depression, Anxiety, & Pain

Chronic pain, depression, and anxiety all share many symptoms. Trouble sleeping, fatigue, and trouble concentrating or paying attention are common among people experiencing either of these three conditions[i]. Although comorbidity is extremely common, it can feel easier to focus treatment solely on the pain and avoid dealing with psychological symptoms. In the long run, however, this is not a viable option.  Fortunately, both anxiety and depression can be improved by a variety of treatment options: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 
  • Relaxation & Meditation 
  • Exercise
  • Medications (Antidepressants, Mood Stabilizers) 

Depression and Anxiety are both rampant amongst chronic pain patients. Although both are serious clinical disorders that can make pain feel worse and daily tasks even harder to complete, the treatment options available are manageable and effective.

[i] Sharp, J.R., & Keefe, B. (2005). Psychiatry in chronic pain: a review and update. Current psychiatry reports, 7 3, 213-9 .