Does Pain Lead to Anxiety?
Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Pain impacts emotions, the general functioning of an individual; thus, most certainly affects the mental health of an individual. This article aims to create awareness about anxiety and how pain can lead to stress.
Anxiety is the natural response of an individual to situations perceived as stressful or dangerous. While it is a normal emotion, anything in excess can cause long term harm to us. We are genetically primed to respond to threat as a self-protection mechanism. This response is called the fight-or-flight syndrome, which is our body’s mechanism to deal with the perceived threat. Even though the dangers have evolved from predatory animals to modern-day pressures, the mechanism remains the same, which means there are physiological changes in our body every time we face difficult situations. In addition to changes such as rapid breathing, heart rate, pulse, muscular tension, there is also the release of adrenaline. It is the release of this hormone, adrenaline, which causes these changes. While some amount of adrenaline is beneficial to us, constant exposure causes persistent spikes in the adrenaline levels, which can be potentially dangerous as it can cause damage to blood vessels, increase blood pressure, even increase risks of heart attacks and strokes.
Depression and anxiety share similar pathways as pain, and thus can have a reciprocal effect on each other.
Dealing with pain, and especially chronic pain is most certainly a situation that may cause anxiety, as it is a digression from the usual way of functioning. Pain is characterized by worry about the future, as there are real challenges in terms of finances, family dynamics, personal self, social ties. This constant worry, unless dealt with effectively, can lead to anxiety issues in the long run. It is essential to identify the signs well in time. Common symptoms of anxiety can include fear, worrisome thoughts, irritability, restlessness, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and at times even panic attacks.
While several studies have been conducted to establish the link between chronic pain and depression, relatively less research has been undertaken into pain and anxiety. Of course, more and more focus is turning towards the relationship between pain and anxiety. One such 2014 study by Eric de Heer et al. considered a large sample of 2981 participants to examine along with anxiety, on pain-related disability, pain intensity, and pain location in adults with and without a depressive and/or anxiety disorder. The study concluded that depression and anxiety share similar pathways as pain, and thus can have a reciprocal effect on each other. Therefore, patients displaying depression and anxiety along with pain need different treatment plans as compared to patients without anxiety. In essence, it means that along with pharmacology, such patients benefit significantly from psychotherapy.
Such psychological interventions would primarily include previously discussed treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy, relaxation therapy, and other alternative therapies. Previous articles have covered these therapies in-depth. As such, treating and even identifying the presence of anxiety in pain patients is challenging, mostly because, patients themselves attribute their changed emotions to the pain itself rather than acknowledge the possibility that they may be experiencing anxiety. However, if this possibility is considered with an open mind, pain patients can benefit significantly in the management of pain itself.
So, while you reflect upon this article and decide when to book a therapy session, here are some quick tips for you to start practising.
Identifying triggers – Your triggers range from things like caffeine, alcohol, nicotine to tense situations. Different people have different triggers, so identifying is the key to dealing with these triggers.
Writing down thoughts – As you experience reduced social contact, it is a good idea to connect with people who sail in the same boat, so seek support groups and group therapy.
Modifying diet – Some food types act as relaxants such as green tea, ashwagandha, omega three fatty acids etc.; including such food in daily diet is very beneficial.
Practising deep breathing – Simple slow and deep breathing, consciously undertaken a couple of times each day, ensures a steady supply of oxygen to the brain, and thus an improved metabolism.
Using aromatherapy – Aromatherapy is known for its soothing and relaxing effects; it is an excellent tool to relax your senses and counter anxiety. So light those candles, indulge in incense and scents like chamomile and lavender.
In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “Smile, breathe and go slowly.” Try these easy tips. While these will help you immensely, do consider therapy! Remember, professional help will enable you to overcome both pain and anxiety, so REACH OUT!