Ways to reduce anxiety when you have chronic pain
Written by: Jonas I. Bromberg, Psy.D.
Published: Friday, January 29, 2010
Reviewed by: Kevin L. Zacharoff, MD, October 2013
Anxiety is a state of uneasiness and distress often about future uncertainties. It can also be a resulting symptom of stress. If you have chronic pain, your body and mind may feel under attack. As a result, you are likely to feel worried or apprehensive about many things.
Feeling anxious about your health and your pain is normal. In some ways, this can be a positive thing. Thinking about your concerns and sharing them with others can help you define and review your worries. Then you can decide if you need more help to understand your concerns and how you cope with them. This can move you forward with your life.
On the other hand, too much anxiety, or anxiety left unchecked, can lead to intense fear that can quickly spin out of control. Anxious thoughts can “feed” even greater anxious thoughts, causing you to make rash decisions. Or they may stop you so you are unable to function.
What can you do to manage the anxiety you feel as a result of your pain? Using a “take charge” attitude, can go a long way to help you. Consider the following ideas while you develop your own plan of attack:
Identify your fears and deal with each one separately.
You might feel anxious about your pain, or perhaps a particular question is burning in your mind. You may think: Will the pain go away? What will I do if it doesn’t? What will happen to my family if this continues? How can I take care of my responsibilities if this pain continues? Will I be able to enjoy myself? While each of these questions is important, it can be overwhelming to consider all of them at once. A better strategy may be to tackle each question separately.
Some people may feel that their illness or pain is taking over. If you feel you are losing control over your condition, adopting a “take charge” attitude puts you back in control. Think about creating your pain management plan and discuss it with your healthcare provider. Feeling empowered in this way can carry over to other aspects of your life. By having an attitude of taking charge, those “loss of control” feelings are not as likely to get in your way.
See yourself as a team member.
Is your independence slipping away from you? Do you see yourself needing more and more support from others? Look at your family relationships as being inter-dependent (back and forth), rather than dependent (one-way). The difference is that inter-dependent relationships have a give and take rhythm. Each person depends on the other to make things work. It is more empowering to be a member of a team, than to feel that you are the only one who requires help.
Find things that allow for self-expression.
Sometimes your emotions may surge. At these times, you should find a way to express yourself. Bottling up your feelings until you are ready to explode (or do explode) is waiting too long! Consider an ongoing way to share your feelings in a comfortable place, with those whom you trust. Anxiety is very often a natural response to ongoing pain, and managing it keeps you in control. Be clear about where and to whom you will talk, and give yourself permission to do so when necessary. Writing or talking about your feelings is a beneficial step to self-expression.
Strengthen your social support network.
Immediate family members are usually the first ones chosen to be part of a support network. Relying on them alone, however, can sometimes drain everyone involved. Try to widen your circle of supporters by joining a support group. Here, you can talk freely, compare notes about how things are going, and share ideas about what coping strategies help. Religious organizations that offer support in individual and group settings can provide an added dimension of encouragement when you need a boost. Most importantly, think of yourself as part of a larger circle. Know that there is “give and take” within the support circle: they help you, and you help them. You are dealing with significant issues, but you are not dealing with them alone.
Consider complementary therapies.
Many people with pain may also experience mood disturbances. Conventional approaches to medical care do not always address these symptoms or provide relief. Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, mind-body techniques, and massage, can help relieve anxiety and improve physical and mental health. Self-hypnosis and relaxation techniques may lessen anxiety about procedures and pain. Massage and meditation may lower anxiety and other symptoms of distress. Some dietary supplements contain ingredients that may affect mood. Always check with your provider before using any dietary supplement.
Anxiety can be overpowering, but it can also be managed. Seek appropriate help to deal with your pain and your feelings. The good news is that anxiety is one of the most successfully treated mental health conditions.
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