Living with chronic pain certainly has its challenges and can mean you miss out on some activities you enjoy. If the pain is severe and/or long term, you may need to alter your work schedule, social life and responsibilities. Chronic pain can prompt your body to have a stressful response both physically and mentally, so it’s no wonder that it often goes hand in hand with mood disorders. Managing mood disorders with chronic pain is a challenge that both patients and doctors need to be able to meet.
The Impact of Chronic Pain
Pain, especially chronic pain, has a wide-reaching effect on your life. Living with chronic pain can diminish your quality of life. It can cause emotional distress, interfere with your ability to function and may even restrict your ability to perform basic tasks such as cleaning the house or going for a walk. In some cases, chronic pain may inhibit your ability to leave the house. That can restrict your social opportunities and leave you feeling cut off from friends.
Chronic pain can significantly decrease the quality of life for younger people, too. A study of 128 adolescents who lived with chronic pain revealed that as the intensity and frequency of pain increased, the participants’ quality of life decreased. The patients’ mothers were also surveyed and revealed that the pain the patients were suffering reduced the families’ overall quality of life, too.
How Chronic Pain and Mood Disorders are Linked
It’s easy to see why people who live with chronic pain are at an increased risk of developing mood disorders than those who do not live with chronic pain. Chronic pain can cause a lack of sleep, which leads to increased stress. That increased stress can result in strained relationships both in personal relationships and at work. This snowball effect can easily lead to more prominent and frequent symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It’s important to consider the effect that pain management has on mood disorders. The better that the pain is controlled, the less it diminishes quality of life. In theory, people living with chronic pain would be able to do more if their pain is well-controlled, reducing the severity and/or occurrence of mood disorders that pain so often causes.
Examining Management Strategies
In addition to managing chronic pain, your treatment plan should be comprehensive enough to also address mood disorders. Getting your pain under control can help to reduce depression and anxiety, but it’s important to treat the mood disorders as well.
To treat chronic pain, your doctor or pain specialist may recommend a number of analgesic drugs, such as opioids. The appropriate medications will depend on:
- the origin of your pain
- your medical history
- any allergies that you may have
Medication can also be useful for treating anxiety and depression. Antidepressant medications can:
- help to balance neurotransmitters in your brain
- improve your mood and regulate your emotions
- improve the quality of your sleep
Their effect on sleep is particularly important if your pain prevents you from getting enough quality sleep. Finding the right antidepressant and the right dosage can take some time, so your doctor will ask you to report back with observances about your mood and any side effects.
Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes that can help to both manage your mood disorders and your chronic pain:
- Getting regular mild exercise can help to relieve stiffness and pain while also providing mood-improving endorphins.
- Nutrition choices can also help to reduce both pain and anxiety. Recent research shows that “plant-based nutrition program improves not only depression, but anxiety, fatigue, productivity and other markers of well-being.”
- Making efforts to get plenty of quality sleep each night can help your body to combat chronic pain while also reducing anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Managing Mood Disorders with Chronic Pain
Your doctor may also recommend that you seek cognitive behavioral therapy to help you better manage your mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a popular and effective option that has long-lasting results. Typically, you will start to see benefits of this therapy in just 12 to 16 weeks.
You can learn more about this form of therapy by watching the video below:
Trying this option gives you an active role in your treatment. With the guidance of a therapist, you will identify, understand and change your thinking about your chronic pain. This therapy can help you to develop a sense of control as well as helpful coping skills.
In order to help you better cope with chronic pain and get control over mood disorders, a cognitive therapist may help you to do a number of things, including:
- Learn about chronic pain and your specific condition
- Practice meditation and relaxation techniques to relieve muscle tension
- Improve your sleep
- Identify unhelpful thoughts and reframe your thinking to improve your mood
- Identify activities you enjoy and find a way to incorporate them into your daily life
The bottom line on managing mood disorders with chronic pain
If you live with chronic pain and depression, anxiety or other mood disturbances, please seek help right away. Your health care team should be able to provide you with resources to help you get started.
Whether you opt to try medication, therapy, or a combination of them both, know that there is help available. You do not have to continue to suffer with anxiety or depression.
How do you manage your mood disorder and chronic pain?
Tell us about your experience in the comments.
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