Pain and Mental Health
Marsha Tunstall, LPC, LAC
No one enjoys being in pain. But imagine if your pain prevented you from participating in your every-day activities whether work or fun. This is life for someone living with chronic pain. Whether pain made a sudden appearance due to injury or illness, or developed gradually over months and years, it can be debilitating and can include irritation, inflammation, swelling, deformity, discomfort, and distress.
Many suffering with chronic pain also battle sleepless nights full of discomfort, tossing, and turning. This can eventually lead to increased fatigue, irritability, and frustration. Additionally, the inability to work, socialize, and be active can develop into isolation, anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues. Over time, pain messages rewire the brain impacting perception and emotions and these mental health issues also increase pain perception as negative thoughts and feelings set in. Thus, pain impacts mental health and vice versa.
It is estimated that more than 50 million – or one in four – Americans experience daily chronic pain, and more than 75 percent of those also struggle with mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, or substance misuse. Chronic pain is a biopsychosocial disorder. This means our biology (body), psychology (mind), and social environment (life) are connected; together, they impact not only our health, but also our mindset and interactions with others.
There are no real cures for chronic pain, yet pain is the number one reason people seek medical care. Medications may help mask symptoms, but often come with high risks with side effects and the potential of developing a tolerance or dependence on the drug. Rest can help, but too much rest and activity avoidance can lead to muscle and stamina loss.
Pain can be managed, and there are a variety of ways to cope with chronic pain and improve the quality of daily function. These include daily stretching and low-impact exercise to ease stiffness, moist-heat massages to reduce inflammation, positive mental thoughts and activities to distract the mind, and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and guided imagery. Making healthy nutritional choices, such as increasing fluid intake, adding fruits, vegetables and high fiber foods, and reducing sugars and carbohydrates that can increase inflammation, can also help.
As those suffering with pain begin to have better understanding of their body’s limitations and improve their thoughts, feelings and activities, they can take control of their pain verses pain controlling them.
Marsha Tunstall is a behavioral health consultant at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence. She is certified by the Board Examiners for Counselors, Marriage and Family Therapists, Addiction Counselors, and Psycho-Educational Specialists.