How To Deal With The Emotional Consequences of Chronic Pain

Jermaine Delgado Uncategorized Leave a Comment

What is known about pain?

Pain is both a sensory as well as an emotional perception due to actual or potential tissue damage. This is because the perception of pain is not only a physiological response of our body, but also an emotional perception in our brains. 

Anthropologically and philosophically, humans are said to instinctively recoil from and avoid pain while actively pursuing pleasure.  

Pain Can Be Good

Pain is not always a bad thing. The perception or awareness of pain is a means of survival: when we feel pain, we immediately remove that part of our body from the object causing the painful stimulus.  For this reason, when we touch a hot stove, the pain we feel makes us immediately remove our hand, thus saving us from a serious burn.

Pain is also an indicator that something is wrong in our bodies, and can be a signal of disease or some condition that needs to be taken care of.

When Pain Is Bad

Pain becomes a bad thing when we do not feel pain or when we experience too much sensitivity to pain. 

There are infections and conditions which attack the nerves that inhibit our pain preceptors.  One such infection is Hansen’s disease or leprosy. The disfigurement of a person suffering from Hansen’s disease is not really brought about by the bacterial infection itself; but the bacteria attacks the nerves that renders causes loss of perception of pain. When a person is unaware of pain, it makes him vulnerable to serious injury or danger. 

On the other hand, there are conditions, autoimmune diseases and injuries that do not only cause chronic pain they also intensify the brain’s perception of pain. 

Chronic pain is said to be pain that lasts for more than three months with or without any tissue damage or injury. 

Classified as chronic pain are the pain and intensified perception of pain associated with:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Lower back disorders (slipped disc, herniated disc, etc.)
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Nerve neuropathy associated with diabetes and cancer.  
  • Chronic pain caused by injury often starts as acute pain (it comes suddenly when the injury occurs) but it persists even after the injury has resolved. 

What Is Unknown About Pain

The causal relationship between mood, emotions, state of mind and the perception or sensitivity to pain has not yet been found.  

This means: it still cannot be determined if stress, low mood and other mental health issues cause a heightened sensitivity to pain; or if heightened sensitivity to pain causes emotional or mood disturbances.  

What is evident is that most people who suffer from chronic, persistent pain also suffer from emotional distress, mood and mental health disturbances.

Stress related to diagnosis

  • Chronic pain results in stress which makes sufferers irritable, anxious, depressed and fearful. At first, they tend to be confused as they try to find a root cause for their pain. 
  • They increasingly feel frustration the longer it takes for them to find a diagnosis for their pain. 
  • They feel that their friends and family disbelieve their pain and cannot understand what they are going through. 
  • They feel that their doctors disbelieve that there is anything physically wrong with them, but instead, they increasingly feel that their mental competence or psychological state is in question.  
  • They feel that people think that their pain is only in their minds.  Thus, they feel that they are going crazy.

Isolation and Immobility Due To Pain

Those who suffer from chronic pain tend to want to stay immobile for fear of aggravating the pain.  

They withdraw socially from friends, family and their usual activities, especially if they are taking pain medication. 

The pain medication may relieve feelings of pain but often, pain medication has undesirable side effects, which, affect mood.

The pain, the immobility and the isolation or the side effects of medication trigger feelings of low mood and isolation.  They often lose their jobs and occupations because of the pain or because the pain medication prescribed for them renders them incapable of doing things that they used to do.  

Pain medication often affect one’s reaction time and concentration which interferes with one’s ability to do cognitive and mental tasks and it makes them incapable of operating machinery or even driving a car. This makes them feel dependent, unable to care for themselves; helpless and hopeless.  

They lose their financial independence and they often battle with guilt at not overcoming their pain and going back to their old life.

Dealing With The Emotional Consequences of Chronic Pain

Because dealing with chronic pain includes both pharmacological, emotional, mental, and quality of life diminishment components, it essential that those who are dealing with pain take care to address those issues.  

A person dealing with chronic pain has to come to terms with the pain, learn how to cope with it and the altered circumstances of their lives because they have to live with it. 

  1. Contrary to popular belief, engaging in light to moderate exercise can strengthen the body and lessen the perception of pain.  Physical exercise promotes the release of endorphins, the body’s feel good hormones, which makes one feel better naturally.

  2. Engaging in talk therapy, joining a support group and learning skills to cope with pain also helps people feel a measure of control over their pain and their lives. Talking therapies also help people sort out the emotional distress associated with their experience of pain and there are therapists who specializes in just this topic.

  3. Complementary and alternative remedies, such as, acupuncture and acupressure also relieve stress, promote relaxation and increase the feeling of wholeness and well-being that, in turn, increases the person’s resilience when it comes to dealing with pain.

    Aromatherapy and herbalism are both natural therapies that use plants and essential oils to provide calm, relieve stress, alter mood and relieve pain.

  4. Modifying one’s lifestyle, one’s eating and sleeping habits, as well as, one’s activities may relieve stress, thereby relieving some emotional issues, which, either trigger or aggravate the pain.

  5. Finding medication or a combination of medications that is well-tolerated, and that does not cause debilitating side effects may bring relief, as well as, lift the low mood associated with chronic pain.

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