You wish you would wake up one morning, and it would be gone. The constant ache, the sharp jabs…the reminder that your life is not quite what it could be or once was. A recent study shows that chronic pain impacts the lives of over 50 million Americans. If this is your life, you are well acquainted with the extra medical costs, limits to your social life, and lost workdays associated with your chronic pain. At Evanston Counseling, we feel for you and our clients who suffer daily. We want you to know there are ways to reclaim more of the juice of life and to feel the struggle less.
What is Chronic Pain and How Does It Affect Most People?
This article from Johns Hopkins Medicine describes chronic pain as a
long-standing pain that persists beyond the usual recovery period or occurs along with a chronic health condition, such as arthritis.
Chronic pain is a stress state. You may develop anxiety trying to anticipate how you will manage the pain and continue to lead your life. Doctors find that a “terrible triad” of suffering, sleeplessness, and sadness can develop for their patients with chronic pain. The pain often interrupts sleep causing insomnia. An inability to maintain your employment, social life, or the activities you enjoy could bring on sadness.
The Delicate Dance of Chronic Pain and Depression
Of course, the physical element exists in chronic pain, but we must also recognize the emotional weight of the suffering. Chronic pain and depression do a delicate dance. Alternately, they take the lead and direct the movements. Here is the Catch 22: the more you stress about the pain, the more the depression might grow. Increased stress can prolong the pain. Pain slows recovery from depression, and depression makes the pain more difficult to treat.
Like our clients in our Evanston and Chicago area practice, you’re most likely no stranger to the roller-coaster ride of emotions chronic pain can bring. If you experience any of the following symptoms, let your doctor know. The earlier you let them know, the better.
A sad or anxious mood
Difficulty with falling asleep and/or staying asleep
A feeling of hopelessness or lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
An increase or decrease in appetite
Low energy or a lack of motivation
This Harvard Medicine article recognizes that chronic pain is a
complex experience that affects thought, mood, and behavior and can lead to isolation, immobility, and drug dependence.
The way we are wired, our brains and nervous system use some of the same neurotransmitters involved in the regulation of mood to manage the pain response. With chronic pain, the systems that help regulate our response to painful stimuli do not work as they should. So, the pain and emotional responses (sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety) to the stimuli increase together. Your experience of chronic pain and chronic depression can change the functioning of your nervous system. (See the Harvard Medicine article for a more detailed explanation).
Make sure that your doctor is aware of how you feel emotionally. Most physicians who specialize in pain management treat their patients with a combination of over-the-counter and prescribed medications. These physicians will also recommend that you speak with a counselor or therapist, like us at Evanston Counseling. You are dealing with an intricate set of circumstances. Using a variety of strategies will bring you the most relief.
Chronic Pain…What Can You Do to Feel More Alive and Struggle Less?
This pathways.health article is a rich, in-depth look at living well with chronic pain. Let’s take a look at five of Ann-Marie D’arcy-Sharpe’s helpful tips.
Tip #1 – Come to Terms with Your Pain – Acceptance is key to healing. A diagnosis of chronic pain is heavy on its own. Daily management of your pain is a different kind of mental hurdle that may be hard to get over. In counseling, we use a method called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It will help you accept and reframe how you see and experience your pain. D’arcy-Sharpe sites a study which determined that
“acceptance of chronic pain was associated with less pain, disability, depression and pain-related anxiety, higher daily uptime, and better work status. “
Check out our article here to learn more about CBT and how it can help you.
Tip #2 – Turn to reliable sources to learn more about chronic pain, in general, and specifically about your condition. This research will help you find answers to your questions about why you feel the way you do. Knowledge about your illness may also help lessen the anxiety you feel associated with your pain. You will become aware of new treatments for your condition and the questions to ask your physician or therapist.
D’arcy-Sharpe notes that she felt reassured after determining through research that the activities and exercises she engaged in, while painful, were not damaging her body.
Tip #3 – Choose movement that you love – Exercise may be the furthest thing from your mind when you feel your pain flaring up. Start slowly and build up your tolerance for moving through the pain. Choosing an activity you naturally love, like yoga, swimming, or walking, may help in this process. The exercise will also help to boost your mood.
Tip #4 – Find a Way to Get Good Sleep – You may have trouble sleeping with the persistence of your pain. Establishing good sleep hygiene (rising and going to bed at the same time most days, avoiding screens an hour before bed, etc) will set an expected routine for your body and mind and may bring you better sleep. Limiting sleeping during the day may help to make you more drowsy in the evenings. Take any sleep-inducing medications near your bedtime as a natural aid for sleeping.
Tip #5 – Nix the Stress – As we mentioned before, the stress and anxiety you feel around your condition increases your pain. Paying attention to what triggers your stress, can help you lessen your response to provoking circumstances or people. Do more of the things you love which naturally bring you delight. Are you a foodie? Cook up a gourmet meal. Or, pull out your guitar from the closet and strum a little.
Working with our therapists is another way to reduce stress. We will give you strategies to handle your thoughts about your pain and how it impacts your life. Over time, you will have less stress and begin to feel lighter when you think about your pain.
Reach out to us today. We are happy to walk alongside you as you journey through a life of greater joy.