DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, AND CHRONIC PAIN
Depression is a mood disorder that involves persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable. 85% of people with chronic pain are affected by severe depression, while up to 60% of people with pain will struggle with anxiety.
Anxiety, is a condition characterised by excessive worry or fear about future events or situations.
Symptoms of anxiety may include feelings of restlessness, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and trembling.
While depression and anxiety are distinct conditions, they often occur together and also share brain pathways and mechanisms with chronic pain.
It is important to note that there is a difference between feeling down and worried about your pain and having a diagnosis of depression and anxiety.
If you have been feeling depressed or anxious for more than 2 weeks, speak to a member of your treatment team.
Just as with pain, getting a diagnosis is important, so if you are worried about your mood, or think you might be anxious, speak to a member of your interdisciplinary team.
Depression, anxiety and pain are treatable conditions. The great news is that often treating one will also help relieve the symptoms of the others!
Treatments include medication, lifestyle changes, self-management strategies, and specialist psychotherapies.
HOW DOES DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY AFFECT CHRONIC PAIN?
Depression and anxiety can influence chronic pain:
Depression and anxiety can increase the sensitivity of the nervous system, leading to increased pain.
NEGATIVE THOUGHTS & BEHAVIOURS
Anxiety and depression can cause low motivation and drive, negative beliefs about the vulnerability of the body and an expectation of the worst possible outcome – this makes it difficult to participate in healthy behaviours such as exercise, and participating in activities that are important to you.
CHANGES TO APPETITE
Depression and anxiety can cause over-eating or a loss of appetite.
Both are a problem for the management of chronic pain.
Overeating (particularly of sugary, fatty foods) causes increased inflammation, and increased weight, making it harder to feel motivated and exercise. Not eating on the other hand, means that you may not have energy to engage in well behaviours – your engine has no petrol in the tank! This also causes a stress response, leading to more pain!
Ask a member of your team for a referral to a mental healthcare practitioner if you are concerned.
Depression and anxiety can interfere with sleep, leading to fatigue, irritability, poor coping and more pain.
POOR SELF-ESTEEM & LOW SELF-EFFICIENCY
Depressed mood and anxiety can make you feel as if there is just no hope, as if there is nothing that you can do to help yourself, and as if you are not worth any help anyway. This leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, which makes pain worse.
INCREASED EMOTIONAL DISTRESS
Chronic pain can be a source of emotional distress, and depression and anxiety can further exacerbate these feelings. This can lead to a cycle of pain, distress, and emotional dysregulation that can be difficult to break.
Depression and anxiety can significantly impact an individual's experience of chronic pain, making it more difficult to manage and interfering with overall quality of life.
It is important that your pain management team should address your physical and mental health needs. Treatment for depression and anxiety can help reduce pain, and treatment of pain can improve depression and anxiety, but specialist
intervention may be necessary.
Here's how exercise can help:
1. Release happy hormones:
20 minutes of any kind of exercise at 60% of maximum effort stimulates your brain to release your happy hormones – the natural mood boosting chemicals in your brain.
2. Deep breathing reduces stress and anxiety:
By exercising, you help your body to
breath deeply, and deep breathing helps treat anxiety and stress by reducing cortisol (stress hormone) and increasing the amount of calming chemicals in your brain.
3. Improves Sleep:
Exercise, specifically exercising outside in the sunshine, has been shown to help reset our sleep-wake patterns, improve our ability to fall asleep, and improves the quality of sleep.
4. Provides a sense of achievement and success:
Exercise can help improve self-esteem by providing a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. As you see improvements in your physical health, you will start to feel better about yourself, and start believing in your own abilities again.
5. Promotes Social Interaction:
Exercising with others helps reduce feelings of loneliness, isolation and worthlessness. Having someone to meet up with also helps with motivation and accountability.
Starting an exercise program when you are feeling depressed or anxious can be hard.
Contact one of our therapists, or try one of our movement programs to get you started!