Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pain and Depression - Are You Overwhelmed or Proactive?

Chronic pain affects every aspect of your life. [It affects your quality of life as it limits your physical functioning, your ability to perform activities of daily living, and your ability to work. It has social consequences for your marital and family relationships, it may limit intimacy with your partner, and it may prevent interaction with friends. Given the pervasiveness of pain, it's no wonder that chronic pain affects your psychological well-being as well.

Why do pain and depression co-exist so often? Scientists have been studying this relationship through neurosciences and epidemiology and have made important discoveries. First of all, both depression and the suffering of pain are located in the same area of the brain. Second, the same chemical messengers are involved in regulating pain and mood.What are the mechanisms that affect these parts of the brain and these chemical systems? We find that depression runs in families, so that the stress of having pain may trigger the chemical changes in the brain leading to depression in persons who may be vulnerable because of a family tendency (genetic) to depressive illness. More commonly, however, a person has no family vulnerability to depression, but may get "worn down" by all the stress, losses and problems encountered by having pain over many months. Either way, this "wearing down" is biochemical, such that certain important chemicals (similar to vitamins) that are responsible for regulating both pain and mood appear to be functionally depleted. This is why the same medications that are helpful in depression may also effectively treat pain, because they enhance the pain and mood regulating effects of these chemical systems in your brain.

Seeking help and advocating for yourself are the first steps to treating your pain. Your physician's goals in treating you are to reduce your pain, improve your physical functioning, reduce your psychological distress and improve your overall quality of life. There are many different ways to treat depression and anxiety related to pain. Your physician may suggest one or more of the following therapies to reduce your psychological distress:

  • Medication
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Stress management (e.g., relaxation techniques, hypnosis, biofeedback)
  • Supportive counseling
  • Family counseling
It's important to remember that being depressed is not a sign of personal weakness – depression and anxiety are related to chemical imbalances in your brain. Depressive and anxiety disorders are illnesses that can be treated. Taking medication and going to therapy to treat your depression is the same as taking antibiotics to treat an infection – the necessary steps you take to get better.

  • Keep a diary and record changes in your pain and emotions. Bring it with you to your doctors' appointments to remind yourself of how you were feeling and when you were feeling better or worse.
  • Identify a support network. Support persons could include family members, friends, support groups. 
  • Educate yourself through books, reputable web sites, and organizations.
  • Set realistic treatment goals.
  • Stay active – with your doctor's advice and approval, begin an exercise program.
  • Try stress management techniques and use them regularly. Guided imagery, hypnosis, biofeedback, and relaxation techniques really can work if you work at using them. ]
This information is from the National Pain Foundation website:   http://www.nationalpainfoundation.org/articles/98/pain-and-depression

I have had chronic pain for 35 years (from an auto accident) and I struggle with feeling overwhelmed at times. I have found I cannot handle the stress of pain and depression along with other health complications alone. Sometimes I need someone from my support network to help me get back on track. Whether it's taking more time to pace myself because I'm doing too much - or  I may need to get out of the house and get out of myself. My friends and family help me immensely when I'm willing to listen to them and let them help. I will never forget there was a time when I had no support system and that was a very dark time in my life but I did make it through. I encourage all of you who deal with pain (or chronic illnesses) and depression to get the help you deserve. No one should have to deal with these symptoms alone.  Feel free to leave your comments here if this is something that concerns you. 

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