A woman with chronic pain and depression, holding her spine in pain

Chronic Pain and Depression: Helpful Tips

Many of us have suffered from, or have loved ones who have suffered from, chronic pain. Feeling physically uncomfortable on a near-constant basis can be exhausting and discouraging, and at times can feel hopeless.  Chronic pain also affects those around you, as it is difficult to see someone you love struggling to perform basic tasks or unable to do the things they used to enjoy. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that between 60% and 80% of individuals suffering with chronic pain also struggle with a co-occurring mental health condition. One of the most common problems faced by those with ongoing pain management issues is depression. 

Frequently, the only recourse offered for coping with depression is another pill. However, anti-depressant medications are often insufficient for ameliorating the symptoms associated with chronic pain and do little to change a person’s actual behavior or quality of life.  Below you will find some guidance on what you can do to help manage your chronic pain and depression, and to be an active participant in your own recovery.

A Common Chronic Pain Question

Q: What can someone with chronic pain do to avoid or help reduce depression?

A: Pain interferes with your ability to sleep, do your daily chores, and to have a good quality of life. Therefore it is not surprising that over two-thirds of those who have chronic pain issues report struggling with depression. Constant pain alters the neurochemical output in your brain and can negatively impact your entire view of life. Nevertheless, there are two basic steps you can take when you feel yourself sliding into depression these steps will help you regain control without having to take another pill.

First of all, remember to breathe!

When a person is in pain their breathing speeds up, even if they don’t realize it. Try slowing your breathing and focusing on breathing from your diaphragm (belly breathing), this type of breathing exercise will help you feel calm and relaxed. A quiet state of mind leads to a reduction in perceived pain and a better mood. There are Smartphone Apps like “Calm” and “Relax Meditation” that can help by providing guided breathing exercises.

Secondly, move!

It is common to be afraid of moving when you are in pain, fearing it may cause you to hurt more, but sitting too long will worsen your pain! For every 20 minutes, you sit you should get up and move around for at least 2 minutes. Try taking a short walk or do some stretching. Movement triggers the production of “feel good” chemicals in our brains, helping to reduce both pain and sadness.

If you start these activities regularly and you still feel depressed, don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are trained mental health professionals who can work with you and give you tools to learn to manage your mood and your pain. You may not be able to alter the underlying reality, but you can change how you perceive and think about it. With the right tools, you can manage chronic pain and depression.