Which Came First, the Chronic Pain or the Depression?

Breaking down the relationship between negative feelings and chronic pain

Many people suffering from invisible illnesses are initially misdiagnosed as having depression. Although this is concerning, it is understandable given the symptoms of these chronic illnesses overlap with conditions often associated with depression.

Depression and anxiety have been reported to be more prevalent in chronic pain patients than in the general population. Not only that, but sadness intensifies where there is pain. These emotions, for example, are the best predictor of pain associated with chronic illnesses.

Understanding the Connection

The reason that negative thoughts and emotions can create chronic pain is because of how they trigger the fight-or-flight response in our brains, leading to a release of cortisol and adrenaline. When our brain is in that high-alert state, we can experience a range of physical symptoms- the most common being pain, GI issues, problems sleeping, and fatigue, among others.

The language we use (i.e. dread, pain, fear, etc.) with ourselves and others can negatively impact us. This is why interacting with difficult or negative people can be depleting or make us feel worse. We aren’t going to be positive all the time and that’s ok, but being able to catch ourselves when we are focusing on the negative emotions and working to reframe them can help with a variety of issues.

Pain Reprocessing Therapy

The issue with the most common treatments for chronic pain is that they typically follow a medical-only approach. You see a doctor for your pain, they give you a diagnosis, and then you “treat” it with medication, injections, physical therapy, or even surgery.

Yet, there is one crucial factor that is not accounted for in a medically focused approach to chronic pain: the role your BRAIN plays in experiencing pain! Pain is the result of a neural pathway that’s been created in the brain and when that pathway is activated you FEEL pain in your body. Yet sometimes, the brain can misinterpret messages from your body when you’re physically safe and okay, and read them as if you’re in danger which triggers that neural pathway unnecessarily.

When this happens over and over (and over) again, you experience the perpetuating cycle known as chronic pain. To interrupt this cycle, you need to interrupt the pathway in your brain that continues to be activated which is something that medicine, injections, and physical procedures can’t do!

Learn more about Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT) through my course Calm Your Brain, Heal Your Pain here!

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