4 Sneaky Ways of How The Mind Can Make Chronic Pain Worse
Do you experience chronic pain?
Do you feel it’s all too much and struggle with your day to day life?
Most of us have experienced pain in our lives. That can range from headaches, joint pain, back pain to a tooth ache. Chronic pain is defined as pain persisting beyond three months and can be quite complex. Changes occur in the nervous system that keep the nerve fibres signalling pain, even if the original injury is no longer present. This is the case for 1 in 5 Australians. Unfortunately chronic pain can cause depression.
It is important to realise that our experience of pain in those cases is not only depending on what happens in your body but much more so on what’s going on in your mind.
Have you ever noticed that you might have a pain somewhere in the body, but once you get distracted by watching a funny movie or do an activity that you enjoy, you don’t notice the pain as much or it even disappears completely?
But as soon as somebody asks you about your pain, it’s back in full force. That is your mind (conscious and subconscious) at work. Our mind is a powerful player in our overall wellbeing and in our experience of pain
So what are those 4 Sneaky Ways of How The Mind Can Make Chronic Pain Worse?
If stress is not dealt with, but pushed away or if it is chronic, it causes physiological changes in the body due to the prolonged release of stress hormones and a subsequent dysfunction of those.
Short term stress increases tension in the body, preparing us for fight or flight, which in itself can make the perception of pain worse.
Long term stress however causes increased inflammation and and increased experience of pain. A whole cascade of reactions in the body cause a lack of adequate blood flow to the pain area. This causes a lack of oxygen, nutrients and also creates a build-up of biochemical wastes making any inflammation and the associated pain worse.
Anxiety can aggravate pain.
And it makes sense. If you feel anxious about pain in an area of your body, you will pay more attention to it and if you pay more attention to it, you will experience it as worse.
But that’s not all, anxiety also creates stress in the body and this stress is often experienced as chronic stress with the associated consequences.
Anger can be quite a complex emotion, but most often it appears when we have to do something we don’t want to do or something happens to us and we don’t have any control over it.
When we are angry we are switching on the stress response and physically create more tension in our muscles. and increase the levels of pain we experience
4. Low Self-Esteem
This seems to be a long shot, but it makes sense.
Somebody who always has this nagging feeling that they are not good enough will strive to do everything to perfection. When faced with a new task they will go out of their way to perform it as perfectly as possible.
As a result, they put enormous pressure on themselves and that again creates a lot of stress and tension in the body.
Do you notice the common theme? – Stress
Unfortunately, most of the times we are not in control of the stressors in our life. Unexpected events quite often happen, deadlines and time pressure are not only part of our working but also our private lives
So what can you do about it?
If you have acute or chronic pain, the best way to make sure that it doesn’t take over your life and be able to manage chronic pain without medication (or little medication) is to practice relaxation techniques to tone down the stress response.
A variety of relaxation techniques have been studied and have demonstrated to significantly reduce pain: Meditation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Guided Visualisation and Hypnosis.
A therapy called Relaxation Based Pain Relief uses a combination of those relaxation techniques to relieve, reduce or eliminate the pain experience.
There is no standard right fit, whatever works for you is best. But whatever you choose, it is important to practice this regularly (daily), so that your mind and body learn that being in a relaxed state is actually an enjoyable and regular event. This then allows the effects to carry over into your day to day life.