Many people living with chronic pain don’t feel like their loved ones can understand what they go through. When their mental health faces tough challenges, it can add new symptoms to the list of things they prefer not to talk about. The reality is that anxiety and depression often coincide with chronic low back pain. These are a few reasons why and what you can do about it.
Chronic Pain Causes Anxiety
Constant pain or flares of uncomfortable tension in your lower back might result in understandable anxiety. There’s likely much more to the pain you’re dealing with because it often stems from these conditions.
There are many forms of arthritis, so the condition is an umbrella term for more specific diagnoses. Your arthritis might affect the joints in your lower back. Swelling results in stiffness, leading to constant or frequent pain that disrupts your life.
Feeling so uncomfortable all the time can trigger anxiety conditions. You might worry about your pain flaring up while you’re walking around the store or hanging out with friends. You could panic about your arthritis getting worse and halting your job, your dreams for your family, or your vision for your future. When the pain becomes too much, it’s a reminder of anxiety involving all other aspects of your life.
Health Conditions After Accidents
Anxiety also happens after someone has an accident that results in lower back pain. Accidents from car crashes, sports, or age-related incidents can permanently change your spinal cord or the muscles around it.
In addition to dealing with constant pain, you could also get anxious about your accident happening again or about how it ended or impacted your former lifestyle.
Pain caused by fibromyalgia can happen anywhere in the body, but you might feel it mostly in your lower back. It also has symptoms like fatigue and insomnia, which amplify any anxiety you might have during a typical day.
You could panic about never sleeping again, never having enough energy to keep up with your family, or not being energetic enough to socialize outside of work.
Compound the anxiety with an incurable pain condition and there’s significant potential for anxiety-induced thought spirals. It’s a natural reaction to a driving force of pain in your life.
Each disk in your spine plays a crucial role in how you’re able to move comfortably. If a disk herniates, the rigid outer ring forms tiny cracks that fill with its natural jelly center. The leaks can happen as bones weaken with age, if you gain too much weight, or experience sudden strain due to movements or jolting.
Although almost 90% of herniated disks heal naturally, the last 10% require more time. They can cause weeks or months of chronic pain in addition to surgery or repeated spinal injections.
There are many related reasons why anxiety can occur. Being anxious about your pain affecting your daily life is understandable. You could also fear spinal injections or surgery, or worry that neither will improve your quality of life. It would be nearly impossible to face a herniated disk’s constant tension and pain with a strictly positive frame of mind.
Although osteoarthritis patients often have pain centralized to their knees, hands, and hips, it can also occur in the lower back. When a joint’s inner cartilage deteriorates, your bones grind against each other and may experience pain alongside swelling and stiffness.
The symptoms often stop a person’s normal way of life. Significant changes could result in anxiety for anyone, even someone without osteoarthritis. Still, it can be difficult to deal with both when the underlying pain isn’t going away.
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Health Conditions Cause Depression
Chronic pain leads to anxiety and depression for some people. These are a few reasons why depression may accompany your chronic condition.
It May Remove Your Independence
People with constant severe pain may need to rely on others in ways they never did before. You might not be able to carry groceries into your house due to your lower back pain, play with your kids, or hang holiday lights. Whether the changes are big or small, they all come from a loss of independence that’s challenging to accept.
Chronic pain and depression can result in feelings like a loss of interest in your hobbies, difficulty sleeping, and an inability to concentrate. If you have those symptoms, you might be one of the 7.1% of American adults who have experienced a major depressive episode. Many people don’t realize they have depression because their symptoms are different than what gets portrayed in movies and TV shows.
You don’t have to feel sad to have depression. It could present as frustration or anger resulting from your recent loss of independence. Depression feels and functions a bit differently for everyone, so it’s worth considering after something as severe as chronic pain changes how you live your life.
It May Disrupt Your Lifestyle
When your body functions differently, it almost always results in a lifestyle change or two. Some people do that in small ways, like planning more bathroom stops during a road trip when they can’t hold their bladder as long as they once did. Some people have to change their lifestyle more significantly, especially if they have chronic low back pain.
You might have to change your career because you can’t sit at a desk or work on your feet for 40 hours a week. Maybe your new quality of life requires a cane or a walker. You could also take new medications with disruptive side effects, like brain fog or mood swings.
Your back pain could also have changed a core part of your identity. If you once played competitive sports, the athletic part of your identity might not exist anymore because your pain keeps you from physical activity. It’s debilitating and can lead to bouts of depression, if not a long-term diagnosis.
It May Cause Financial Stressors
Lower back pain has both physical and psychological costs, but it can also drain your bank account. You may need costly medications to manage your pain that your insurance doesn’t cover. Additionally, visits to your doctor’s office and potentially a physical therapist come with costly bills.
Your monthly budget and ability to pay your bills are understandable sources of depression, even for people without chronic pain. It’s especially a cause of deep sadness or numbness if you have to spend your savings on pain management.
It May Inflame Biomarkers
Some causes of chronic pain inflame the nervous system. Forms of arthritis could intensify depression symptoms by causing your nervous system to remain constantly on edge.
When your biomarkers can’t function properly, they may over-respond to stimuli in your brain. Normal feelings of sadness, loneliness, or other depressive emotions become amplified on a cellular level.
It May Trigger Isolation
Pain can cause people to knowingly or unknowingly isolate themselves. They may push people away because they feel shame, anger, or sadness toward their bodies. Their loved ones might also distance themselves because they don’t understand what it’s like to live with severe pain or know how to help.
Isolation of any form can trigger or intensify depression. No matter how long your pain lasts, grappling with depression can become part of your life for numerous reasons.
Ways to Manage Your Mental Health
You’re doing everything possible to manage your chronic pain, anxiety, and depression, but your current lifestyle might not provide much peace. These are a few ways to manage your mental health while living with lower back pain.
Talk With Your Doctor
Whether you’re dealing with chronic pain and depression or anxiety, it’s always a good idea to talk about your daily experiences with your doctor. After discussing your quality of life and daily experiences, they might recognize common anxiety symptoms such as:
- A racing heart rate
- Stomach problems
They’ll know which symptoms stem from your back pain and which are signs of a more serious mental health condition. Your doctor can also recommend medications to manage your anxiety or depression if they think the prescriptions will work well with your medical history.
Find an Anxiety Outlet
There are also ways to release your anxiety so it doesn’t stay pent up in the form of anxious thoughts, muscle tension, or other physical symptoms. You’ll have to consider what you enjoy doing to find solutions that might help.
You could try journaling to release your feelings on paper when your anxiety gets intense. Fill in a coloring book to slow your thoughts through a form of focused meditation. Work through slow breathing exercises, listen to a calming video, or call a friend to vent.
It’s essential to try numerous relaxation techniques to find what works best for you. Everyone’s mind is different and the severity of your back pain could make some resources a better fit than others.
Plan for Depressive Episodes
Depression comes in waves, so sometimes you’ll have better days than others. You don’t have control over how your depression works or when it’s more manageable, but you can take advantage of the good moments when they come. Try planning for your next depressive episode when you’re having a good day.
You could stock your home with healthy, ready-made foods to support your health when you cannot cook or don’t want to grocery shop. A stash of granola bars, bananas, or healthy frozen meals will come in handy if your depression leaves you stuck in bed when it’s at its worst.
Consider letting a family member or friend know they’re your contact if your depression gets too bad to maintain your routine. If they know they could receive a text or call when you’re feeling your worst, they can prepare a list of ideas to support you. They might bring dinner over, take care of your pets, or manage other responsibilities while you’re getting through a wave of depression.
Connect With a Therapist
Therapy is always a crucial resource for people with depression. It’s especially important if your depression compounds with your back pain and results in dangerous self-harm thoughts or ruminations.
Search for affordable therapy in your city, online, or through charity organizations. After talking with a mental health professional, you might find that your anxiety or depression stems from something that happened before your back pain began. The pain could have amplified things that already existed in your mind. A therapist knows how to guide you through the healing process and use tools to improve your mental health.
There are numerous ways to reach therapists thanks to the popularity of online platforms. Compare the prices for local therapists who do in-person and virtual consultations before searching for online organizations that provide around-the-clock access to therapists. You’ll find the help you need at the prices that fit your budget.
Set Personalized Self-Care Goals
People are sometimes hard on themselves when their mental health keeps them from accomplishing their daily goals. Although it’s good to have a routine and ambition, adjusting those goals when your depression is worse than normal is important.
Start setting personalized goals during depressive episodes to give yourself some grace. Your regular routine might include doing the dishes, folding the laundry, and getting groceries. When your depression makes those things seem impossible, adjust your goals to achievable actions like brushing your teeth and eating three meals daily.
Some apps teach users more about self-care. Download a few to compare them and see which apps work best for your needs. Whether you want reminders to start self-care habits, encouragement from a friend, or virtual achievements on the path to your goals, numerous apps are available to get you where you want to be.
Give Yourself Compassion
Chronic pain, anxiety, and depression are a long-term battle. Remember to give yourself compassion while learning how the mental and physical aspects intertwine. Compassion leads to better self-care, which improves your quality of life. If you ever have questions, doctors and therapists can assist with finding what you need to reach more inner peace.
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