Of the over one billion people suffering from chronic pain, about 60% of them experience depression in the agonizing process. Chronic Pain may last for days, weeks, months, and even years. This often sets us up to feel a deep sense of hopelessness. You might suffer from ongoing headaches, back pain, cancer-related pain, arthritic pain, nerve pain, and the list goes on and on. With such a painful existence, you might stop enjoying the things that once brought you joy. You might even close yourself up in your home because, on the surface, that seems like the safest thing to do. You might stop exercising, experience mood swings, stop seeing your friends, or feel deeply irritated. All these factors may leave you feeling lonely and isolated.
Unfortunately, your primary care physician may not specialize or recognize your depression, which often stops you from reaching out for help. Those of us, who have a history or predisposition to depression, may have a much harder time managing and treating it. Many of us will feel as if there is no hope for a cure, but keep your chin up, because there is...and here are some tips about how to cope with the depression that accompanies chronic pain.
Recognize Your Symptoms Early
Try to recognize your depression early on. If you’ve been dealing with depression for a long time, don’t worry, this advice still holds true. Symptoms of depression include, feeling sad, anxious, worthless, hopeless, disinterested in previously enjoyable activities, difficulty sleeping, a decrease in appetite, or loss of energy. Let your doctor know as soon as you experience any one of these symptoms, as this is one of the best things you can do to prevent a deeper fall into the depths of melancholy. Be prepared for your doctor to refer you to a mental health professional. Telling your doctor about any depressive thoughts you might be having is the best and first step in beginning the path to restored health.
Attempt Any Amount of Exercise
When you’re in chronic pain, it’s hard to motivate yourself to exercise. Be gentle on yourself and know that any amount of exercises lightens the emotional load. Go slowly and take it easy on yourself. Yoga, Pilates, and Gyrotonics all help relax your muscles and ease the pain in both your physical and mental body. Exercise helps your mind stay focused on the task at hand, and off your feelings of hopelessness. Keep it light and easy with low-impact, low-cardio exercises. Exercise also boosts your immune system - another essential factor in the healing process.
Talk Therapy is another name for psychotherapy. You get to express yourself openly with a therapist. It’s incredibly helpful if you’re going through the angst of depression, anger, panic, or anxiety. Getting help is the best thing you can do to take action, and something you should never feel ashamed about. Look at it in the same way you view going to the doctor. You’re not alone, and we all need to reduce the stigma around depression through talking about it openly. You can be a part of that change by seeking help. Confidentiality agreements between you and your mental health professional also help, and you don’t have to tell anyone else about it. Talking about your depression helps you identify negative patterns of thought and behaviors that often trigger depression. In turn, you get to learn positive thoughts and behaviors that help increase feelings of happiness while reducing feelings of depression. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is a tremendously helpful in identifying negative thoughts about our self and the world around us. A mental health professional that is trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy will help you think realistically about your conditions, and help you form healthier thought patterns.
Open Communication With Others
If you already feel isolated, it’s really important to begin letting your loved ones know. Talk to someone you trust and be open to the help they provide. Everyone cares and most people have been in a similar boat. Sometimes depression stays around even if your chronic pain is gone, so don’t be so quick to dismiss depressive feelings. Long-term depression can trigger a return of chronic pain, so take necessary baby steps to prevent that. Communicating openly and honestly about your depression to others is truly one of the best baby steps you can take.
Multi-disciplinary treatment is a multi-faceted approach to treating depression that is associated with chronic pain. This might include one-on-one therapy, group therapy, meditation, exercise, or a combination of the options listed above. Advice from both your physician and psychologist has its place. Your doctor might notice changes in your physical symptoms while a mental health professional might recognize mental changes. Working side-by-side with both of them can give you the help and care that you deserve.
The Little Things
Some days it’s all about the little things. Stay as active as possible, even if it’s just a short walk in nature. While chronic pain can be debilitating, do your best to continue with the activities you enjoy. Educate yourself via online resources about lifestyle choices, and talk to your doctor about diet and exercise. Strengthen your social connections and keep in contact with friends and family. If you can’t visit them, ask them to visit you. A strong social support system works wonders for all of us - whether we’re in the throes of chronic pain, depression, or any other life challenge. We can all get by with a little help from our friends.