Chronic pain is defined as prolonged physical pain that lasts for longer than the natural healing process should allow. This pain may stem from sport-related injuries, inflammation, nerve disorders, fibromyalgia, and trauma to the body. Chronic pain can prevent you from engaging in everyday activities that can eventually lead to the overuse of pain medication, alcohol or other substances, that compound the problem. Chronic pain is often accompanied by symptoms of depression and anxiety, leading to an overall sense of powerlessness. Research has shown individuals who are consumed with stress and anxiety often experience tense and constricted muscles, which leads to fatigue and inefficacy within the body. Therefore, emotional stress cannot only contribute to digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, it can also lead to your experience of chronic pain. Due to the importance of the mind and body interrelationship, you must increase your awareness around how you can develop psychosomatic symptoms or stress-related symptoms associated with your chronic pain as a result of unresolved emotional issues.
In learning how you are experiencing chronic pain you will enhance your ability to seek out and follow an effective treatment plan. For instance, experiencing a traumatic event such as a motor vehicle accident can have an impact on the development of pain. The typical trauma response includes psychological and physiological symptoms such as numbing, hyperarousal, hypervigilance, nightmares, flashbacks, helplessness, and avoidance behaviour. During a traumatic event, the nervous system goes into survival mode, causing an increase in the release of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to an increase in blood sugar and blood pressure, which can reduce the immune system’s ability to heal. When the body remains in a constant state of distress you are more likely to manifest an increase in physical and emotional symptoms. As a result physical pain functions to warn you that there is emotional work to be processed, and can also be a sign of unresolved trauma in the nervous system. Even when you have grieved and processed the emotional impact of a traumatic event, the nervous system can still be in survival mode, resulting in further work to be done. Trauma and chronic pains strong correlation suggest the best form of treatment relief would be a combination of psychotherapy and physical therapy that uses imagery, addresses the nervous system, and cognitive behavioural therapy.
How to Manage Chronic Pain
Reduce stress in your life
Make time for relaxation and rest. Schedule time for activities that create happiness, such as socializing with friends, and participating in hobbies. Engage in relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture, or deep breathing exercises. Stay grounded by sticking to a daily routine, engage in activities that make you feel better, allow yourself to stay present in the moment with your emotions, as well as break large jobs into smaller, more manageable tasks.
Exercise induces the release of serotonin and endorphins, as well as, improves self-esteem and sleep. If your level of pain has changed your ability to perform in physical activities to the same degree in the past, work with someone to create a physical exercise plan that minimizes pain.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
Alcohol and drug use can exacerbate symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma, as well as contribute to unhealthy behaviours such as isolation and avoidance.
Join a support group
By doing this you are ending your suffering in silence by engaging in an environment where people will understand what you are going through and will be able to offer healthy coping strategies to manage your pain and increase your accountability. Being with others who are up against the same problems will help reduce your sense of isolation. Hearing how others cope with their pain can also move to inspire you.
Journal pain level and daily activities
Keep a journal that tracks your daily activities and rate your pain on a scale of 1-10. This will help you to gain a better understanding of how you are living with chronic pain and your functioning level. By writing this in a journal you will be able to discuss this in detail with your doctor in order to enhance your treatment.
Eat a well-balanced diet
Small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help maintain your energy and help to minimize emotional swings, inflammation, support healthy digestion, reduce heart disease, manage weight and blood sugar levels.
Get plenty of sleep
Chronic pain can contribute to sleep disturbances that in return will enhance your symptoms of chronic pain and make it harder to maintain your emotional and psychological balance. If you are struggling to sleep due to constant pain discuss this with your treatment specialist.
Art of Distraction
When you become mentally focused on your pain, the pain will become all consuming and immobilizing. Find mental and physical activities that allow you to take control of your life and step out of the pain.
Do not isolate
Make an effort to maintain and engage in healthy relationships and avoid spending too much time alone. Ask for support from a trusted family member, friend, or counsellor. Participate in social activities, even if you do not feel like it. Remind yourself of your strengths and reclaim your sense of power by comforting or helping others.
In all chronic pain left unmanaged will physically and psychologically destroy your quality of life, draining relationships as well as, your own personal happiness. It is essential when seeking treatment for chronic pain that you gain an understanding of the interrelationship between the mind and the body.
If you feel this speaks to you and would like to explore these thoughts further please feel free to contact me, as I am here to help you to achieve your optimal life.
When to seek professional help for emotional or psychological trauma associated with chronic pain. Ask yourself the following questions:
Are you having trouble functioning at home or work?
Are you suffering from severe fear, anxiety, or depression?
Are you unable to form close, satisfying relationships?
Do you experience terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks?
Do you avoid more and more things that induce physical pain or remind you of the trauma?
Do you emotionally numb and disconnect from others as well as, your physical pain?
Do you use alcohol or drugs to dull your pain or make you feel better?
Risk factors that increase your vulnerability to trauma related to chronic pain
An unstable or unsafe environment
Separation from a parent or primary care giver
Intrusive medical procedures
Sexual, physical, or verbal abuse
Causes of emotional and psychological trauma related to chronic pain
Falls or sports injuries
Surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life)
Sudden death of someone close
A car accident
The breakup of a significant relationship
A humiliating or deeply disappointing experience
The discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition
Emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma related to chronic pain
Shock, denial, or disbelief
Anger, irritability, mood swings
Guilt, shame, self-blame
Feeling sad or hopeless
Confusion, difficulty concentrating
Withdrawing from others
Feeling disconnected or numb
Physical symptoms of trauma related to chronic pain
Insomnia or nightmares
Being startled easily
Aches and pains
Edginess and agitation