Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that managing the simplest of chores seems impossible? Mental load, or cognitive load, is the amount of mental effort it takes to perform a task. It’s that mental list that you keep in your head of all of the things that you need to tackle in a day, week, or month.
And your mental load can actually lead to an increase in chronic pain.
Research suggests that having a heavy mental load can worsen chronic pain because when you’re under the stress of managing multiple tasks at once, your brain remains in a state of hypervigilance, also known as the fight-or-flight response. When your brain is in a persistent state of stress, your muscles become tense, stress hormones are released, and pain pathways in the brain become activated. This can eventually lead to increased pain perception and decreased pain tolerance.
It can be a vicious cycle – chronic pain can cause persistent stress and muscle tension, which increases mental load, and makes it more difficult to complete tasks on your list, leading to more stress. Increased stress and mental load can cause other symptoms over time.
What is Chronic Pain?
Pain that consistently lasts for more than three months is considered chronic. While acute pain (pain lasting for less than 3 months) is often due to an injury, research shows that most chronic pain is due to neural pathways in the brain.
Chronic pain can have a significant impact on your life. It can interfere with sleep, work, relationships, and activities of daily living. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, and social isolation.
Managing the Mental Load
Chronic pain can improve when you reduce stress associated with your mental load. You may have a long to-do list but the key is to practice being more mindful and handling the tasks with more ease and balance.
Here are some helpful tips to reduce the impact of stress:
- Share the load: If you feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to seek help. Ask friends or family members for help, or consider hiring someone to assist you with tasks.
- Take breaks: Take regular breaks throughout the day to be mindful and tune into what is happening in your mind and body. Slow down, take some deep breaths, or go outside for fresh air.
- Add in movement: Incorporate gentle exercise into your routine to relieve stress, improve mood, and boost energy levels.
- Establish boundaries: Practice saying no to overwhelming requests to safeguard your time.
- Incorporate relaxation techniques: Meditation, yoga, or spending time outside can help reduce stress.
- Get enough sleep: Having a consistent bedtime routine can help with stress management and reduce pain. In addition, if you are having issues with falling asleep and staying asleep, getting care for your insomnia is critical.
- Connect with your loved ones: Stay connected with loved ones and participate in enjoyable activities together.
- Consult a professional: A therapist can impart valuable coping strategies and help you devise a stress management plan.
Therapy for Reducing Mental Load and Managing Chronic Pain
Living with chronic pain can be difficult, but there’s no reason to navigate it without support. There are resources available to assist you in managing your pain and easing the mental burden it imposes – and interventions like pain reprocessing therapy are evidence-based and can help you to reduce pain.
Lowering stress levels, seeing pain as non-threatening, and improving coping mechanisms can enhance your quality of life and enable you to manage chronic pain more effectively. Contact us today to get started!