Mental illnesses can affect an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. They often cause disarray in one’s personal and professional life, causing impairment in functioning, distress, or damage to relationships.
Unfortunately, many mental illnesses coincide with chronic pain (whether they cause it or are the result of it).
Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than six months; chronic pain may even last for years. Chronic pain can be dull or sharp, a throbbing or burning sensation, and mild or severe.
It may appear intermittently or continuously and varies from person to person.
Generally, pain is a result of an injury. However, in such a scenario, the body transmits pain signals to the brain even after healing.
Dealing with chronic pain can prove to be a challenge since it limits our ability to participate in daily activities.
It reduces the body’s ability to move and lowers its flexibility. It hampers strength and endurance, necessitating the intervention of various pain relief methods.
The relationship between physical and mental health is complex and can be challenging to navigate through, especially by yourself. If you are looking for resources relating to mental well-being and health, consider utilizing resources like MyTherapist for online therapy to access more information.
The Relationship Between Physical and Mental Health
Physical and mental health are interconnected and significantly affect the quality of life of the individual. Even The World Health Organization (WHO) states that “there is no health without mental health.”
Individuals with mental illness(es) may be at a higher risk for developing physical conditions than the general population.
Physical symptoms or changes related to physical health can result from the mental illness itself or may be a consequence of medication or other forms of treatment used to address it.
Mental illnesses also often impact the social, affective, and cognitive function of the individual. Untreated mental illness can result in the adoption of harmful habits – like excessive drinking, smoking, or other risky behavior – leading to injury.
On the flip side, physical illnesses can also contribute to mental illnesses.
People with chronic physical illnesses like heart disease and cancer, for instance, experience high levels of stress. Constantly living in a state of heightened emotions and fear can lead to mental illnesses like depression and generalized anxiety disorder, among others.
The Relationship Between Mental Illness and Pain
As mentioned, mental health problems and chronic pain share the same two-way street. We also know that mental illness can make pain feel worse.
In many cases, pain often is a comorbid condition resulting in poor functioning of the individual. Mental illness can contribute to pain intensity either directly or indirectly (by dissuading you from exercising, attending treatment, etc.)
Pain can come before or after the development of mental illness.
Various studies have reported that many people with chronic pain (10-87%) have depressive symptoms, while clinically depressed patients (27-100%) show a prevalence of pain symptoms.
Researchers cite many reasons for the link between mental health and chronic pain, including:
- Neural pathways used to process chronic pain are also used for grief, anxiety, and depression, making it impossible for the brain to distinguish between each other.
- Long-term chronic pain could create an environment of isolation and distress, leading to decreased mental well-being. The individual becomes vulnerable to a host of mental disorders that can damage mental and emotional health.
- Medications used for psychiatric treatment can interfere with cognitive processes and impulses, distorting thinking and heightening negative emotions.
Comorbid physical and mental conditions can prolong the duration of a health condition and decrease an individual’s quality of life.
As a result, health practitioners have begun to pay attention to the physical symptoms of ailments and the mental well-being of the individual.
Considering how the two might interact or overlap is an essential part of ensuring your treatment plan is as comprehensive as it needs to be.
Methods to Alleviate Chronic Pain
If you experience chronic pain, whether it be with or without the presence of mental illness/mental health concerns, you’re not alone. Managing your symptoms may feel like an uphill battle, but it’s one that’s always worth fighting.
Here are some ideas to get you started on the road toward recovery:
- Therapy. Individuals facing chronic pain or mental health problems can consult psychologists/psychiatrists for evaluation and guidance. One of the most common therapeutic approaches that has shown high success rates is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, therapists help clients develop coping skills to manage their pain. Alternative forms of treatment like art, music, and dance therapy can also be used to alleviate pain and stress.
- Relaxation training. Years of research have shown that stress can increase pain and contribute to mental health concerns like anxiety disorders. Individuals interested in relaxation training often utilize progressive muscle relaxation techniques, yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation to cope with pain.
- Acupuncture. This can help release endorphins or chemical transmitters that block pain signals from being transferred to the brain.
- Exercise. It’s no secret that working out is good for your mind and your body. In fact, regular physical activity boosts mood and alleviates anxiety. It also helps the body release mood enhancers, natural pain relievers, and endorphins.
Takeaway: Mental and Physical Health Are Connected
The journey of living with chronic pain is complex and tedious but, fortunately, can be made easier through suitable intervention methods.
Medical treatments, therapy, and modifying one’s lifestyle to adopt healthy behaviors can significantly impact one’s ability to lead life.
No matter what, be kind to yourself and your body. It’s never easy to manage these sorts of challenges, but it helps to try and treat yourself as you would others – with care, compassion, and patience.