For people challenged with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and other invisible issues, managing pain is a priority. Issues such as these generally do not have outward indicators, such as the use of a wheelchair or bandages. They present with symptoms of widespread musculoskeletal pain, problems with sleep, fatigue, weakness, and memory or mood issues.
Although science hasn’t uncovered every link between chronic pain and mental health, we do know that chronic pain can worsen symptoms of depression. Studies show that people with more severe depression feel more intense pain. In fact, one article by Harvard Health Publications states: “Pain is depressing, and depression causes and intensifies pain. People with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms—usually mood or anxiety” issues. The article also asserts that people with depression are three times more likely than the average person to develop chronic pain.
That suggests a strong link between the mind and body, doesn’t it? So if this mind-body connection can work in a negative way (i.e., depression = pain), shouldn’t we be able to turn it around?
The answer, naturally, is yes!
But changing our emotions seems like a daunting task. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an excellent way for people challenged by chronic or invisible issues to help reduce anxiety and depression. CBT explains the relationship between our thoughts, feelings/emotions, and behaviors/physical reactions. Think of it like a triangle. Changing one of those three factors can change them all.
For example, if a person with fibromyalgia says to herself, “I’m never to going to feel better, this is a horrible way to live,” her feelings may be rooted in depression, anxiety, or anger. Her behaviors may include withdrawal from others, and she may experience increased pain and more frequent flare-ups. See how one factor can negatively affect the other?
The good news is that we can stop this negative cycle and reduce pain and flare-ups. CBT would have this person check her thoughts (they are not positive or helpful), then challenge them (they are not necessarily true, and she may have helpful resources to access). Finally, she can change her thoughts to something more positive (“I have support,” or, “I can manage my symptoms”).
When she changes her thinking about the issue, her feelings will likely become more hopeful or peaceful. And research suggests that her behavior/physical reaction will almost certainly result in less pain and/or fewer flare-ups.
I challenge you to think about this mind-body connection and start to notice how it works in your life. If you want to manage your pain (who doesn’t?), try managing your thoughts and feelings and see if doing so helps. If you need support along the way, contact a licensed therapist in your area.
Depression and Pain (2004). Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Depression_and_pain.htm
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