It is unfortunate but chronic pain tends to cause many to also suffer from depression. Researchers believe this occurs because of the changes that pain causes to the brain pathways and the nervous system. Not only does the brain use the neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine, to regulate a person’s mood but it also uses them to divert the signals of pain and discomfort. When the body succeeds at this, these neurotransmitters divert the brain’s focus away from pain and have it focus on the external world. For some reason, this shutoff mechanism for chronic pain sufferers seems to be impaired, causing a perpetual cycle of pain that can lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness.
All too often, depression is overlooked and untreated by doctors. They tend to just focus on the patient’s symptoms of pain. Constant pain not only affects the physical being but also the emotions. When you feel hopeless you also have trouble sleeping, lose your appetite, lack energy, and find it hard to be active- all of which intensify pain.
For the reasons listed above, it is imperative that those who suffer from chronic pain also try to do things to cope with the depression that accompanies it.
Over one billion people suffer from chronic pain, and about 60% of them experience depression in the agonizing process. Chronic Pain may last for days, weeks, months, and even years. This often sets us up to feel a deep sense of hopelessness. Ongoing pain might even cause a person to stop enjoying the things that once brought joy. You might stop exercising, have trouble eating, experience mood swings, isolate yourself from friends, or feel deeply irritated. All these factors may lead to feeling lonely and isolated.
Unfortunately, a primary care physician may not specialize in or recognize depression, so it might go unnoticed by your doctor. If you are experiencing these feelings, it is important to express them to your doctor. If they cannot provide help, they will know of someone to recommend.
Here are some tips to cope with the depression that accompanies chronic pain.
#1) Recognize Your Symptoms Early
Try to recognize your depression early on. If you’ve been dealing with depression for a long time, don’t worry, it's never too late to start. Symptoms of depression include feeling sad, anxious, worthless, hopeless, disinterested in previously enjoyable activities, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, or loss of energy. Let your doctor know as soon as you experience any of these symptoms. Be prepared for your doctor to refer you to a mental health professional. Telling your doctor about any depressive thoughts is the first step to beginning the journey to restored health.
#2) Attempt Any Amount of Exercise
When you’re in chronic pain, it’s hard to motivate yourself to exercise. Be gentle on yourself and know that any amount of exercise lightens the emotional load. Go slowly and take it easy on yourself. Yoga, Pilates, and Gyrotonics all help relax your muscles and ease the pain in both your physical and mental body. Exercise helps your mind stay focused on the task at hand, and off your feelings of hopelessness. Keep it light and easy with low-impact, low-cardio exercises. Exercise also boosts your immune system - another essential factor in the healing process.
#3) Talk Therapy
Talk Therapy is another name for psychotherapy. You get to express yourself openly with a therapist. It’s incredibly helpful if you’re going through the angst of depression, anger, panic, or anxiety. Getting help is the best thing you can do to take action, and something you should never feel ashamed about; look at it like you view going to the doctor. A mental health professional who is trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy will help you think realistically about your conditions, and help you form healthier thought patterns. Confidentiality agreements between you and your mental health professional also help, and you don’t have to tell anyone else about it. Talking about your depression helps you identify negative patterns of thought and behaviors that often trigger depression. In turn, you learn positive thoughts and behaviors that help increase feelings of happiness.
#4) Open Communication With Others
If you already feel isolated, it’s really important to let your loved ones know. Talk to someone you trust and be open to the help they provide. Everyone cares, and most people have been in a similar boat. Sometimes depression stays around even if your chronic pain is gone, so don’t be quick to dismiss depressive feelings. Long-term depression can trigger a return of chronic pain, so take necessary baby steps to prevent that. Communicating openly and honestly about your depression to others is truly one of the best steps you can take.
#5) Multidisciplinary Treatment
Multi-disciplinary treatment is a multi-faceted approach to treating depression that is associated with chronic pain. This might include one-on-one therapy, group therapy, meditation, exercise, or a combination of the options listed above. Advice from both your physician and psychologist has its place. Your doctor might notice changes in your physical symptoms while a mental health professional might recognize mental changes. Working side-by-side with both can give you the help and care you deserve.
#6) The Little Things
Some days are all about the little things. Stay as active as possible, even if it’s just a short walk in nature. While chronic pain can be debilitating, do your best to continue with the activities you enjoy. Educate yourself via online resources about lifestyle choices, and talk to your doctor about diet and exercise. Strengthen your social connections and keep in contact with friends and family. If you can’t visit them, ask them to visit you. A strong social support system works wonders for all of us - whether we’re in the throes of chronic pain, depression, or any other life challenge. We can all get by with a little help from our friends!
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