Chronic Pain and Mental Health- Tips to Manage

Written by: Tanvi Vinay Gangavali –  MA (Psychology)

Last updated date : February 06, 2023

Chronic pain is a health issue. It affects your body and you have a lot of pain. You also feel tired. This also impacts your life. Thus, chronic pain affects your mental health. The connection between chronic pain and mental health is not talked about. But, it needs attention as it can give you a lot of negative emotions. The question is, “How does chronic pain affect mental health? This article aims to answer this question.

At some time in our lives, we will all experience pain. This could be because of an illness or injury. Even emotional discomfort gives us pain. Many of us try to avoid pain. But, pain serves an actual purpose that is good and is ‘protective’. For example, when you are in pain your brain sends signals to you to stop doing whatever is causing the pain. And, you will take all measures to prevent further harm to your body.

Living with daily pain is stressful. Chronic stress changes the levels of stress hormones and neurochemicals in the brain. This also affects your mood, thoughts and behavior.

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Chapter 1:

How Chronic Pain Affects Your Mental Health

Chronic pain interferes with your everyday life.It affects how you function at home and work. You may find it difficult to participate in social activities. Practicing hobbies is also hard. This eventually leads to low self-esteem. Many people also notice changes in their sleeping and eating patterns. They also see mood changes and negative thoughts. These negative changes in your lifestyle can increase your pain and affect your overall mood. Hence, the frustration of results in depression and anxiety.
The Impact on Mental Health Are:
  • Feeling anxious
  • Loss of interest in everyday tasks
  • Not being active as earlier
  • Feeling guilty
  • Lack of sleep
  • Eating issues
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Frustrated
  • Tired
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low mood
  • Negative thoughts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Social isolation

Unfortunately, many of these mental health issues can worsen chronic pain symptoms. Hence, it is important to know how chronic pain affects mental health. This can also help to treat it.

Effects of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain affects various aspects of your life. It affects your home and work life and also your thoughts and emotions.
1. Home and Work Life
  • You notice you have less energy to do the things you enjoy.
  • It can be stressful to manage responsibilities when in pain.
  • It might be harder to concentrate on simple tasks.
  • You might struggle to get enough sleep. This leaves you feeling exhausted.
2. Anxiety and Fear
  • You could feel anxious or scared about the pain.
  • You are constantly worried about damaging your body.
  • Many people feel worried about how their future would be.
3. Other Challenging Emotions
  • Feeling irritable with the people you care about due to the pain.
  • Feeling hopeless about the future, which can lead to depression.
  • Some people feel angry about why they have pain or with people who do not understand the pain.
  • Others feel angry with themselves and see pain as a sign of weakness.

Chapter 2:

Why Does Chronic Pain Affect Mental Health

Chronic pain can affect your mental health. There are many reasons for how chronic pain affects mental health.

  • Brain Pathways- There are many neural pathways in our brain. The neural pathways for anxiety or depression is similar to the ones in processing chronic pain. Hence, over a period of time, the brain may consider both to be the same and cannot distinguish between them.
  • Behavioral Effects- Long term chronic pain changes the way you live your life. This results in isolation and also loss of enjoyment in many activities. Thus, it also changes our behavior. This results in increasing the chances of getting mental health issues.
  • Social Effects- The level of social activeness tends to reduce because of being in pain constantly. This damages social relationships. Also, work life is affected. This results in impact on mental health.
  • Side-Effects of Medication- Certain pain killers to reduce pain can have serious mental health effects. Drugs like opioids or benzodiazepines tend to interfere with normal cognitive processes as well as pain impulse transmission. This can also distort thinking and heighten depression.
How to Treat Chronic Pain and Improve Mental Health
Chronic pain and mental health issues both need to be managed to help the person feel better. Many trained experts help us deal with physical pain and address underlying emotional issues. Hence, This also needs a holistic approach. Both body and mind need help.

If you think you have mental health issues as well as chronic pain, consider the following treatment options.

  • Observe and Make a Note- If you have chronic pain then make a note of what thoughts come to your mind and how you feel through the day. This can also help you to understand if you are having any mental distress.
  • Take Action– based on the tracking that you are doing, you need to inform your doctor about your emotional health while taking treatment for your chronic pain. You should do this even if your doctor does not bring it up.
  • Pain Specialist– A pain expert is essential. They are experts and know how chronic pain affects mental health.
  • Take Counselling– Talking to a counselor about your mental health issues can help you feel better. It also helps you to learn many ways to cope with your emotions and thoughts because of chronic pain.
  • Stay Active-if you Keeping your body active and doing simple forms of exercise can help to see an improvement in your chronic pain. This also has an impact on your mental health. Exercise helps to release certain brain chemicals which can make you feel positive and happy.
  • Mind-Body Activities- Any tasks that help you maintain control of the body and mind are helpful. For example, mindfulness, meditation or yoga.
  • Lifestyle Changes Anything that stresses you out needs attention. This is mainly because stress can cause increase your chronic pain and also mental health issues. For example, eating healthy and sleeping well.
Bottom Line

Help is available. Also, You can do many of the treatment options by yourself. Only for a few, you will need help from a trained expert.  The first step is to see your family doctor who can refer you to a pain specialist. A counsellor is also needed for mental health issues.

With the help of your care team, you should practice strategies for managing chronic pain and boosting your mental health. Also, some methods may not work for you and many might not give instant results. But, consistently practising helps you to get better. There might be days where you feel really low. But looking at the positives and trying to practise any of the strategy might help you get better.

At Epsychonline we have a series of mental wellbeing courses, including programs on chronic pain and it’s impact on mental health. These courses are created for people who have mental health issues because of chronic pain. Visit our Courses page to find a course that may be of value to you.

"Quick online learning, thanks!" Susan

92 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount