The Psychology of Chronic Pain Management
Living with chronic pain presents layer upon layer of life challenges. It would be difficult to fully grasp the difficulties posed by chronic pain conditions without having experienced it yourself. Long-term pain can affect not just your physical abilities and comfort level, but your mood, concentration, memory, anxiety levels, financial security, relationships, sex life, sleep, self-esteem … and the list does not end there.
Mood- Pain is not just a physical sensation. Pain signals are processed in various parts of the brain, including the brain’s emotional center. Our body’s natural pain-fighting chemicals are also involved in regulating our mood. Medications prescribed for pain can have side effects such as fatigue, difficulty with memory and concentration, and reduced sex drive, all of which can contribute to feelings of depression. Difficulty sleeping because of pain does not help the situation.
Anxiety- Pain is a signal that something is wrong. That signal calls our attention like a car alarm and when that alarm does not shut off, our anxiety levels can rev high. We can develop pain attacks or release high levels of stress hormones that wear down our immune systems if you don’t know how to control your body’s stress response.
Relationships- Pain is invisible, but its effects can almost always be felt in one’s relationships. Friends and family can get tired of their loved one turning down or cancelling plans and the person suffering from pain can withdraw to seek the comfort of solitude. When dealing with nagging, persistent pain sensations, it can be difficult to not let things set you off much sooner than they would have before you developed pain. Family dynamics can change because the balance of roles and power can change dramatically when one family member cannot perform certain tasks or contribute financially to the family.
Work- Many people who develop chronic pain are unable to work. The obvious impact of not working is lost income, even if worker’s compensation is paying you some money while you are unable to work. More subtle effects of not working include a reduced social life and less of a sense of purpose and meaning in your daily life. Dreams based on financial ambitions such as lifestyle, retirement, and the ability to help your children financially can change significantly.
Therapy Can Help- Because pain has an emotional component and impacts so many other areas of life, comprehensive treatment for pain usually includes seeing a medical doctor who specializes in pain management, a physical therapist, and a psychologist who specializes in pain management. Unfortunately, the vast majority of psychologists have little to no training in how to understand and treat chronic pain. A well-trained pain psychologist can help you learn ways of calming your body, quieting your mind, identifying thought patterns that make your pain worse, improve your ability to manage stress, and help you educate those around you as well as further your education about how to best live with pain. A vital part of this therapy can come through training in mindfulness meditation, which has been the focus of my research and my area of expertise. Through this process, many people have developed a greater sense of acceptance and control over their pain.
Dr Daniel Tucker specializes in helping those who suffer from chronic pain. Dr. Daniel will be happy to set up a consultation over the phone with you. You can contact him here or you can call him at (858) 914-4360