Connection Between Pain & Anxiety

Everyone experiences pain, but the severity and duration of pain can be more intense for those suffering from anxiety and depression. Harvard Medical School has recently reported that there is a connection between chronic pain, anxiety disorders and depression. People suffering from anxiety and depression have been found to experience more severe and longer-lasting pain than other people. This is especially true for chronic conditions that are associated with pain, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, nerve pain and lower back pain.

Drinking Can be Exacerbated by Pain, Depression, and Anxiety

It was once thought that the connection between pain, anxiety and depression was “all in the mind” and was purely psychological in nature. Researchers believed that since chronic pain is hard to deal with, depression was to be expected. There was also a belief that depression itself had painful physical symptoms. As scientists have learned more about the interdependencies between the brain, nervous system and body, they have formed new theories related to the biological connection between pain, anxiety and depression.

Increased Risks of Substance Abuse

In addition to being connected to pain, anxiety and depression commonly co-occur with substance abuse disorders. Government studies have found that people who are suffering from anxiety and depression are 2 to 3 times more likely to have a substance abuse problem during their lifetime. In many cases, substance abuse is an attempt to self-medicate the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Individuals who take prescription medication for pain and who also suffer from anxiety or depression are at much greater risk of developing a problem with dependence or addiction. The individual’s problems are exacerbated when withdrawal symptoms from medication abuse leads to greater anxiety which in turn can lead to increased substance abuse.

Treatment Options for Overlapping Pain, Anxiety and Depression

Treatment is challenging when pain, anxiety and depression overlap, especially if substance abuse is involved. When focus is placed on treating a patient’s pain, co-existing psychiatric disorders are often ignored. The most effective form of treatment for pain and overlapping disorders is psychotherapy which may or may not be combined with drug therapy.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for pain and many psychiatric disorders. CBT is based on the premise that thoughts, feeling and sensations are related and that patients can learn coping skills that will help manage both pain and psychiatric disorders.

Relaxation techniques such as yoga, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness training can help people suffering from pain to deal with their response to stress. Untreated stress worsens the symptoms of pain, anxiety and depression.
Hypnosis, whether administered by a therapist or in the form of self-hypnosis, is used successfully by many individuals for the treatment of pain as well as anxiety and depression.

Lifestyle changes can also be used to treat pain, anxiety and depression. Regular physical activity, a healthy diet and getting the proper amount of sleep can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression while helping to alleviate some of the symptoms of chronic pain.

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous