How to Cope with Chronic Pain and Depression
By Jazmin Stearne
Chronic illness and clinical depression often go hand in hand. It can be a vicious cycle. Some may not realize how exhausting living with chronic pain can be. Chronic pain means just that; pain that is “chronic”. The physical pain does not go away. Managing a chronic illness can be a full-time job, depending on the severity of that illness. Medication management, surgeries, hospital stays, doctors’ appointments, and stress due to coping with daily pain all come with the territory. Sadly, one important element is often overlooked—depression. If your condition is severe, you will likely experience symptoms of depression at some point. This can be overwhelming to you as well as your family and friends. I live with chronic pain myself and have personally battled the depression that comes with it. I’ve put together seven ways to overcome depression resulting from chronic pain.
- Notice your stressors
I can use myself in this example. I have Trigeminal Neuralgia, a rare but extremely painful condition caused by nerve lesions in my brain. It is called TN for short and causes daily head and facial pain that is so severe, I call these attacks “head explosions”. TN causes nerve damage that is similar to MS and it can lead to many other neurological problems. I’ve found helpful resources to help me manage my pain. For those of you with smartphones, I recommend downloading the PainScale app (created by WebMD). This is the perfect app for tracking your symptoms. You can use it to track your meals, exercise, and emotional symptoms as well. I’ve found it very important to know your triggers. After you’ve figured them out, write them down. This is very useful, as it can help you prevent flare ups in the future. Even the foods you eat can trigger a relapse in pain. Know what helps your pain as well as what doesn’t.
- Know the symptoms of depression
I cannot stress this enough. The symptoms of depression include extreme sadness, lack of energy or motivation, lack of interest in pleasurable activities, hopelessness, changes in appetite, sleep issues, and even thoughts of suicide. If this is something you experience, seek counseling especially if it goes on for two weeks or more. Depression is treatable. Usually, treatment consists of talk therapy and (sometimes) medication.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
- Be open about your depression
Do not ignore symptoms of depression. Many believe depression will go away when the pain improves. Sadly, this isn’t normally the case. Life with chronic pain will affect your relationship with family and friends; your finances, functionality, work or school life, and quality of life. If your chronic pain has been successfully treated and you are in remission, continue to seek treatment for your depression. So, when your illness returns, you will have all the support you need. This includes your therapist, psychiatrist, and a pain management clinician if possible.
- Take multidisciplinary action
I find this tip very helpful and have used it in managing my own pain. For the best treatment options available, look at your current treatment team. I’m sure you already have the appropriate medical doctors. Consider adding a pain specialist (they are very helpful!) and a mental health professional; such as a therapist or clinical social worker.
- Consider Alternative Treatments
Sadly, I think this is often overlooked by patients as well as others in the medical community. When it comes to treatment options for your pain condition, keep in mind that modern medicine has its limits. If you’re like most of us, I don’t see anything wrong with trying a different approach. I have personally tried acupuncture, guided hypnosis, and CBD. Others have found THC (medical cannabis) to be extremely helpful as well as herbal medicine and teas. Reiki is another relaxing form of alternative therapy. There isn’t enough funding to research these alternative treatments as of right now; which is why they are rarely sought out. My own doctors have recommended alternative medicine for me and I’m glad they did. CBD and acupuncture have helped me the most so far. When it comes to alternative medicine, keep your mind open. Of course, make sure to get the green light from your doctor before trying any alternative treatments.
- Set realistic goals
Do yourself a favor and set realistic goals. If you’re able to work, don’t take on too many projects at once. On cleaning day, refrain from cleaning your whole house at once. It is still possible to obtain your goals; just micro-manage them. Take big tasks and split them into small ones. That is my biggest advice for those living with chronic pain. Take baby steps and try not to “over-do it”; especially on days when your pain level is really high. If you need help, ask for it. If you need to take a break, go on and take a break. Give your body what it needs.
- Join Support Groups
Lastly, join a support group if possible. Support groups are essential when living with chronic pain and the stress that comes with it. These groups are always confidential; meaning whatever you say while group is in session won’t leave the room. I suggest finding a group for depression as well as one for your pain condition. If there are no groups in your area, consider joining an online support group. Ask your healthcare professional for more info. I personally find great comfort in these groups, as it is easier to thrive in an environment where you feel completely supported. You and your group mates can support each other, and the healing that comes from this is powerful. I recommend using all seven of these strategies; as I have used each one for battling my depression. If you are living with depression as a result from chronic illness, I want you to know there is Hope.
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