When chronic pain — such as that from traumatic injury, nerve damage or arthritis — causes you to stop in your tracks, it can be frustrating. The active lifestyle you used to lead becomes disrupted, and you find yourself struggling to do even the simplest tasks. But, you aren’t alone. According to the CDC, more than 20 million people in the US suffer from chronic pain that inhibits their daily activities. How does this sudden lifestyle change impact your mental health, and what can you do to cope?
What causes chronic pain?
Chronic pain is pain that occurs from conditions that impact bones and joints. It can also include nerve damage and injuries that failed to heal properly. The cause can be as simple as sleeping on a poor mattress to something as complicated as nerve damage. While chronic pain can be difficult to pinpoint and fix, it’s most commonly caused by:
- Traumatic injuries
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Nerve damage
- Other degenerative diseases
Chronic Pain & Mental Health
Chronic pain can make it difficult to do the things you love. If the cause of your chronic pain is in the lower back — for example — it may be more difficult to climb stairs or run. This results in you decreasing the amount of time you do these types of activities or potentially quitting them altogether.
These gradual to sudden lifestyle changes can be especially frustrating if you deal with other health issues and need the exercise to manage conditions like diabetes. Now, you’re not only struggling with accepting you have to give up the activities you love, but you’ve also run into the obstacle of figuring out how to maintain your other health conditions.
How Chronic Pain Impacts Your Mental Health
Overcoming the battle with chronic pain is typically more mental than it is physical. That’s why those with chronic pain may experience:
When you feel hurt, that emotion and pain can impact other areas of your life. Pain can interrupt how well you sleep, which in turn raises your stress levels and makes you more irritable. It’s a vicious cycle, as feeling more tired from lack of sleep can also make your pain feel more intense. But, each psychological impact caused by chronic pain affects you differently and requires different coping mechanisms.
About 77% who suffer chronic pain have reported feeling depressed. That’s because chronic pain prevents you from sleeping, socializing, or doing any of the things that bring you joy — it’s no wonder you would feel down. The most common symptoms of depression include:
- Loss of interest
- Inability to concentrate
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite changes
- Low self-worth
If you find yourself feeling depressed, the first thing you should do is reach out — first to your family and friends, and then to your doctor. Identify your support team and reach out when you need a boost. Attend social activities, help a friend with a problem they’re facing, or simply talk on the phone — these are all activities that can help you recover from a depressive episode. Meditation and self-care have also been shown to improve moods. If you need extra help, talk to your doctor about antidepressants and other medications.
From paying bills to scheduling appointments and working, you have a lot of things to worry about. If chronic pain is disrupting your sleep, you can find yourself obsessing over the things you need to get done or what-if scenarios. In extreme conditions, your anxiety can turn into panic attacks.
To put your mind at ease, think through which situations are real risks or dangers, and let go of the things you cannot control or change. Were you unable to do a task at work because your chronic pain made it more difficult? Make the decision to talk to your supervisor about your limitations — and until then, let it go. Don’t be afraid to talk to your support system to help identify things out of your control. And, if your anxiety feels overwhelming, talk to your doctor about the options of a therapist or medication.
You need quality sleep to function properly, but unfortunately, chronic pain doesn’t always allow you a full night’s rest. Not only can pain keep you from sleeping soundly, but a side effect to certain medications can also cause restlessness. This can cause:
- Concentration issues
- Digestion problems
- Memory loss
- Worsened depression or anxiety
If you’re experiencing insomnia because it’s a side effect to one or more medications, you should talk to your doctor to see if there are other alternatives. If pain is causing you to toss and turn throughout the night, try to make your environment more comfortable. It could be as simple as adding pillows or getting a mattress that works better for your condition.
Most commonly, fatigue is commonly associated with insomnia, but it’s more than just feeling tired. Feeling tired can be fixed with resting, but fatigue makes everything feel and seem more difficult than it is normally. Walking from the bedroom to the kitchen can feel like walking down the block. Fatigue is often seen with arthritis — where your body is fighting inflammation by releasing chemicals that can cause fatigue.
Unlike insomnia, fatigue can sometimes become worse with rest. Instead, take short walks and complete tasks in short bursts. Need to go grocery shopping? Instead of preparing for a week or two in advance, pick up only enough food for the next few days. Your list will be shorter, and the trip will take less time and energy. Make sure to drink plenty of water, and when it’s time for bed, try to get a full seven to nine hours.
Anger is often the result of a lack of sleep mixed with guilt. It can cause you to lash out at friends and loved ones for minor inconveniences or everyday occurrences. You may feel defeated that you’re no longer able to do the things you love or frustrated that your mental capability can’t help you overcome your new physical limitations. Whatever the cause, anger can be detrimental to your mental health.
If you know the source of your anger, figure out ways to relieve tension. Is it picking up a different sport that is less irritating to your chronic pain, or is it getting out and having lunch with a friend? Identify what causes you to feel anger, and when you feel it bubbling up, take a timeout. Practice some deep breathing exercises 15 minutes per day to help calm you down. If anger is still a common issue, talk to a therapist about the cause of your anger.
Request an Appointment at The Orthopedic Clinic Today
At The Orthopedic Clinic, we want you to live your life in full motion. If you suffer from chronic pain and it’s making your life uncomfortable, let us help you. We’ll tailor a treatment plan that’s best for your lifestyle and get you back to doing the things you love. With six convenient locations, we provide quality orthopedic care and interventional pain management services to patients in Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, Port Orange, Palm Coast, and New Smyrna Beach.
Call us at (386) 255-4596 to schedule an appointment.