Chronic Pain and Mental Health

Three Pain Management Techniques to Aid Treatment

Pain is generally meant to last for a short time – as a quick warning to stop doing whatever you’re doing to avoid harming your body. When we experience chronic pain, or pain that lasts for longer than the normal maximum of three to six months, our overall wellbeing begins to feel the effects. This is especially true for your mental state. Chronic pain continues when it should not, which is both physically and emotionally stressful. Here’s how chronic pain and mental health are related, plus three pain management options to combat both conditions.

What Causes Chronic Pain?

If you’re dealing with chronic pain, you know that it can be a bit mysterious and hard to put your finger on. Since normal, or acute, pain can linger for three to six months, you may not even know exactly when the chronic pain started or if there were any events that led up to it. It may have multiple causes, or there may be just one.

Chronic pain can occur as a result of many factors, including injuries that haven’t healed properly, the normal aging process, and nerve damage. While some chronic pain can be caused by lifestyle factors, like decades of poor posture and sleeping on a bad mattress leading to chronic back pain, disease can also be the underlying cause. Arthritis, carpal tunnel, and fibromyalgia are just a few examples that can cause chronic pain. It’s important to understand what is causing your chronic pain, as the underlying cause will affect not only how you treat the pain, but also how the pain can impact your mental health.

The Effects of Chronic Pain on Mental Health

If you’re experiencing chronic pain and the mental and emotional effects that come along with it, you’re not alone. An estimated 50 million adults in the U.S. deal with chronic pain, with 8% of U.S. adults experiencing high-impact chronic pain that limits them from doing at least one major activity. In comparison to people with no pain, people with chronic pain are four times more likely to experience depression and anxiety.

The mental effects of chronic pain can come from both changes in your behavior as well as changes to the chemicals in your brain and body. Being in constant pain can bring on feelings of hopelessness, which can impact the choices you make. Tammy Searle, a professional speaker from California with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, knows this all too well. “I’ve tried to make the best of my life while dealing with chronic pain. The saddest part is not being able to plan in the future because I don’t know how I’ll feel that day,” she told Healthline. Chronic pain can cause you to change how you make decisions and force you to miss social events. Eventually, you might find yourself feeling isolated because you haven’t been able to see friends and family, which takes a huge toll on your mental state.

There are also physical reactions in the body that show that chronic pain affects your brain. Chronic stress alters the levels of neurochemicals found in the brain and nervous system, as well as stress hormones. With both of these chemical changes, you experience changes in your thinking, mood, and behavior. Since chronic pain offsets the balance of chemicals in your body, depression and anxiety can occur.

These chemical changes can impact your daily life in many ways. Per Mental Health America, you might experience the following due to the combination of pain and altered chemicals in the body:

  • Struggling to function at home or work

  • Issues with self-esteem

  • Struggling to find interest in hobbies or social activities

  • Issues with sleep disturbance and fatigue

  • Decreased appetite