How Mental Health and Chronic Pain May Be Related

When considering a holistic approach to health and well-being it stands to reason that our minds and bodies are undoubtedly connected. When speaking specifically about the relationship between mental health and chronic pain one might argue which came first, the chicken or the egg. The truth is, it's both, depending on who you are. It might also be cyclical - one leads to another, which leads back, etc.

We know there are hundreds of different mental health disorders (many of which/all may have a physical pain association), but for the sake of argument we will focus on and use two of the most common as an example: Anxiety and depression. Keep in mind, this post serves as a basic, preliminary understanding

Chronic pain can be debilitating and those that suffer from pain symptoms also report difficulty when it comes to occupational, social, romantic and leisure activities. And, when someone can't enjoy what they love doing most, discernible feelings of anger, bitterness, isolation, sadness and stress may arise. In turn, those feelings may lead to a deeper and more serious form of depression and anxiety.

On the flip side, those who suffer from continuing and perpetual pain may want to consider that their mental health, or state of mind may be the root of the cause. In essence, it’s mental pain manifesting in the form of physical pain. The body doesn’t know how to fight the mental stress so it deploys pain energy into the nervous system, into the muscles and into the bones.

Understanding the relationship between mental and physical pain can equip you with a method of treatment that does not solely rely on prescription drugs and other pharmaceutical interventions. After consulting with your health care provider you can decide incorporating a complementary holistic methodology to your prescription remedies or eliminating the need for drugs altogether.

What are some of the holistic treatments?

  • Talk Therapy Find a trusted psychotherapist, counselor or a group to talk it out with. Discussing challenges you face may help understand your own thoughts better, learn how to think differently and impart a realization that you are not alone. Sometimes, relief comes from relief of our own words and thoughts. Please see this article for further information about free counseling. 

  • Journaling If talking to someone isn’t for you, writing down your thoughts maybe an alternative (or an in tandem) option.

  • Meditation and/or Yoga Practicing a mindful activity every day for at least 20 minutes can do wonders for calming your mood and relieving anxiety. To name a few of many benefits: It increases mental strength and focus, helps ignore distractions, reduces blood pressure, betters sleep patterns, lessens inflammation and improves breathing.

  • Eat Healthy and Exercise This point can never be said enough. Load up on fruits and vegetables, decrease or completely purge processed foods, sugar/high fructose corn syrup and bad fats from your diet. Get active. Find an exercise you enjoy and stick to it. Consider (with care) herbal supplements that help relax and ease your mind, such as St. John's Wort or SAMe.

Whether physical pain comes first or mental pain comes first addressing both simultaneously will have an effect on your overall happiness and well-being. Personal growth and a better understanding of who you are is never a bad thing. When you begin to know yourself and to explore where your pain is coming from, or what it’s causing, you can better treat yourself and live a more contented life.