Pain and mood are intimately interrelated. Everyone has felt the swift mood change brought on by a piercing headache.
Extend that pain daily for weeks or months and the effects on mood can be severe. A low mood can also cause or worsen existing pain, leading to a vicious cycle:
Pain / Mood Cycle
When pain peaks, headspace shrinks. It feels like there is no room for new thoughts. The brain is awash with alerts. Conversation is stop-start.
Our capacities for patience and self-control diminish. Sleep deprivation, common with chronic pain, affects mood too, so we may be fighting a battle on two fronts.
In order to address the mood changes associated with pain, we first need to manage the pain itself, and restore some semblance of stability with treatment. However, as many people living with chronic pain will tell you, pain management is not a silver bullet.
It’s crucial, therefore, to directly address the psychological fallout from chronic pain.
Here are ten ways to manage the effects of chronic pain on mood:
Nobody is a mind-reader. Even on your worst days, you may bear up well enough in the company of others that they don’t know the extent of your pain. Coping skills can sometimes backfire. Tell your loved ones how you are feeling. Communicate honestly and openly. Don’t make them guess. If you need a hug, ask for one.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a proven method for building coping skills, resilience and tackling irrational thought patterns. Here is an excellent guide to get you started.
Don’t always trust your feelings
When our mood is low, we may be prey to despairing thoughts. But we shouldn’t always trust our feelings. The School of Life has a wonderfully thought-provoking video on this.
Self-control as self-care
Pick your battles. Bite your tongue. Use self-control as self-care. The only thing worse than pain we can’t control, is the added pain and stress we create by losing control.
Beware of drug boosts
Caffeine kicks may help, but they can lead to withdrawal headaches and fatigue. Alcohol might seem to take the edge off, but the price paid in mood changes is not worth it.
Even a small amount of exercise creates endorphins that provide a healthy boost to your mood. It’s important to exercise every day to some degree.
Connect with others
Sometimes, the best way to boost your mood is to get out of your own head, and connect with someone else. Listen to them, offer support, and be a friend.
There are times we need to accept how we are feeling, and not fight it. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be very valuable here.
Know the difference between melancholy and depression
Melancholy is part of life, and nothing to be afraid of. Chronic pain can lead to grief and sadness. Depression is different. Please seek help if you are experiencing depression.