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  • Writer's pictureHannah Foster-Middleton

Physical Pain can Cause Mental Pain

Chronic pain can be as debilitating mentally and emotionally as it is physically. Yet we frequently tend to overlook this aspect as we are focussed on trying to cope with the treatment for healing or alleviating pain in our afflicted body. Yet it is very important to address this issue as physical and mental pain can feed into each other in a negative way; chronic mental distress from the initial physical cause, can worsen the condition and make it harder to manage.

If we are in physical distress over a long period of time, it can result in a whole slew of mental disturbances making us ever more uncomfortable and potentially spoiling our quality of life on a daily basis. It is known that chronic pain tends to intensify the risk of anxiety, depression, insomnia, or panic attacks and may change the behaviour of a person. It is important to acknowledge these adverse effects before they become embedded in our psyche. The cognitive issues need to be addressed as well as the physical ones.

For example, the patient may experience some or all of the following issues:

  • Trouble focussing or decreasing concentration,

  • Memory loss;

  • An increased sense of helplessness, or feeling a state of guilt.

This has the potential to affect one’s daily life in every possible way and ultimately may reduce the quality of life for the patient and their family. Our behavior or our moods impact our friends, family and professional associates and affect so many aspects of our life, such as employment, or a relationship with loved ones. When this kind of disturbance happens, our ability to lead a happy and healthier life fades away. Sometimes, the emotional or mental distress and pain can outlive the original chronic pain itself and become a major health disorder, of another kind. Some of the possible changes in mood or behavior are listed here:

  1. Anxiety. The negative changes in our daily life due to pain or discomfort can dampen enthusiasm for anything which, over the long term, may turn into anxiety.

  2. Sleep disturbance. Insomnia caused by chronic pain does not allow sufficient rest for either body or brain to heal.

  3. Loss of appetite. When suffering long-term pain, it tends to take over one’s whole life and habits, so anything else becomes insignificant.

  4. Depression. Long-term pain can trigger a depressive episode, even for individuals who have never been diagnosed with depression before.

  5. Panic attacks. Some people second guess themselves, wondering if they are overreacting to their pain condition causing more anxieties.

  6. Trouble concentrating. It becomes really hard to focus on specifics if the focus on pain is overwhelming.

  7. Guilt. Managing pain issues can sap one’s energy for getting involved in activities, causing disappointment perhaps from family and friends and yourself that you are disappointing them.

  8. Fatigue. Dealing with chronic pain, deprives the body of muscle strength which fatigues the body.

  9. Mood swings. Living life with severe pain may bring an obsession with what-if scenarios, such as what if I am always going to be in pain. Try and avoid doomsday thoughts like this.

For many people medication is their first resort, and for short term relief this may help temporarily but for long term or permanent relief masking the symptoms isn’t enough and potentially harmful as it may make the situation worse. Help should be sought from a professional as soon as possible to determine the origin of the pain issue - so a visit to the doctor or physiotherapist is recommended - rather than a google search and self-medication.

Meanwhile some of the things that can make a significant difference to leading a healthy life not just when in pain, are these: Keep yourself educated about chronic pain to reduce the fear of the unknown; positive thoughts are always better than than negative; continue physical activities and exercises to reduce muscle tension as advised or as in your normal routine; try practicing meditation - there’s no mystery to it - empty the mind as much as possible, this helps calm the mind and focus concentration; follow a healthy diet with fresh food, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It all helps wellness and try sticking to a regular schedule for going to bed and adhering to a regular sleep schedule. Sleep and rest are a great healer for body and mind.

PT. Hannah Foster

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