Chronic pain is a widespread issue that affects roughly fifty million Americans at any given time according to the CDC. Additionally, 19.6 million have high levels of chronic pain that interfere with their daily activities and work obligations. It leads many people to wonder if there is a link between chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.
It seems only logical that someone suffering from around the clock pain would experience some sort of emotional struggles as well. Researchers are beginning to discover more links between chronic pain and mental health conditions. It is not only that those with chronic pain are more prone to mood disorders, but there might also be a link between the two in the central nervous system.
The Link Between Chronic Pain and Anxiety and Depression
The suspected connection is related to how the brain relays signals and creates connections from one area to another, also known as neuroplasticity. To understand this, it helps to understand the difference between pain and nociception. Nociception is the body’s recognition of things like heat and sharpness that might be causing a threat to the body. This isn’t pain; instead, this is the process of recognition. Pain occurs when this message reaches the brain.
For people who suffer from chronic pain, the signals often get mixed up on their way to the brain, meaning the nociception is mixed with other emotions that the person may be experiencing. This leads to the sensations being experienced as extreme pain and worsens the entire experience. However, it’s hard to know if those prone to anxiety and depression are more likely to suffer from chronic pain or if those who are more prone to chronic pain are more likely to suffer from mental health conditions. Generally speaking, people who are naturally hard-wired to be more sensitive to some effects may have more natural vulnerabilities.
How Chronic Pain is Being Treated
The International Association for the Study of Pain defined pain in the 1960s as “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.” This definition shows that pain is both a sensory and an emotional experience. The link has always been suspected.
This is why, if you suffer from chronic pain, it is essential to treat both the physical and the mental aspects of it, but separately. Your primary care physician can help relieve the physical pain symptoms, and a psychiatrist can evaluate you for a mood disorder. Since many of the drugs used to treat pain are low doses of antidepressants, the chances are that your existing treatment can be modified to affect improvements in both areas of health.
In addition to the medications, lifestyle factors must be adjusted to combat both the mood and pain symptoms. You can alter many different things in your lifestyle that will aid in both the mental and physical symptoms of chronic pain. Perhaps the most important is ensuring that you are getting enough sleep. For well-rested individuals, the signals being processed are easier to handle, leading to less pain being experienced.
What Effect Have Sleep und Physical Activity
However, for those who suffer from chronic pain, getting a good night’s sleep can prove to be complicated. One night of inadequate sleep leads to a day of increased pain. The increased pain then leads to a night of restless sleep, and the cycle continues. This increases the importance of taking steps that encourage a higher quality of sleep. To improve your sleep quality, limit caffeine and alcohol intake in the evening hours, and incorporate deep breathing or meditation into your bedtime routine. Those who focus on getting quality sleep seen up to thirty-six additional minutes of sleep a night and more than four extra hours each week.
Next to getting better sleep, physical activity is the most crucial aspect of improving chronic pain symptoms. Engaging in physical activity while you are in pain can be incredibly challenging, but it will lead to significant benefits if you can overcome that challenge. Even just a few minutes of activity a day can improve depression symptoms and alleviate some of the physical pain accordingly to a research. When you partake in an activity, your walk or workout intensity shouldn’t be the focus. The main focus is only that you are moving and not wholly sedentary.
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