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I recently went through a major surgery.
And although the surgery itself went well, the pain of recovery kept me from getting the sleep I needed to truly feel better. The longer I went without rest, the more stressed I felt and the more pain I felt.
It was a cycle that seemed to build and build — until finally I had enough and broke down in tears.
Luckily, I had a doctor that recognized what was happening and addressed not only my pain, but my sleep issues, so that I could start feeling like myself again pretty quickly.
But not everyone is so lucky, especially those that live with chronic pain, rather than an acute condition, like I experienced.
In fact, according to researchers at the Regenstrief Institute, although symptoms of the body and mind seem to go hand-in-hand, doctors all too often neglect signs of depression and anxiety in patients suffering from chronic pain.
The relationship between pain and mood
According to Kurt Kroenke, M.D., of Regenstrief Institute, pain, which is the most common symptom that takes a person into the doctor’s office, is inextricably linked to depression and anxiety — making it vital that a physician delve deeper than the just muscles and nerves.
“One of the reasons for the bi-directional linkage between pain and depression, as well as anxiety, is the existence of a feedback loop,” says Kroenke. “Individuals with pain don’t sleep well and their resulting tiredness affects their mood, making them vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Having problems with depression or anxiety can increase susceptibility to pain.”
Additionally, studies have proven that areas in the brain that control the level of pain a person experiences are also connected to regions that work to regulate mood.
This creates a close association between mental and physical symptoms.
It also explains why researchers have long known that successfully treating depression and anxiety can result in an improvement in pain.
And while reducing pain has not been found to have as profound an impact on anxiety and depression as improving mental health does on pain, taking an active approach to both ends of that feedback loop can bring big benefits.
“Symptoms of the body and the mind are frequent fellow travelers,” Dr. Kroenke reminds us. “But patients seeing their primary care physician for a headache, back or muscle or leg pain or stomachache often neglect to mention the symptoms commonly associated with depression and anxiety that they are also experiencing such as fatigue, lack of motivation, nervousness and moodiness. And physicians don’t always ask about symptoms beyond the ones which brought the patient into the office.
“Un- or under-treated, these emotional symptoms can cause long-term suffering and impaired quality of life.”
Breaking the feedback loop
So if you want to feel better, don’t forget to care for your emotional health, as well as take steps to reduce your pain.
To improve pain symptoms, consider these 10 natural pain relievers backed by science.
And to help overcome mood problems that are keeping you down, try taking a few small steps that can add up fast like:
- Move for just 10 minutes a day – As little as 10 minutes of exercise each day can offer powerful relief from depression.
- Downward dog – Yoga is great medicine for depression. And as an added bonus, it can help ease chronic pain too!
- Natural anti-inflammatories – Omega-3s offer big benefits against both depression and pain thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Magnesium power – A study of 126 adults with mild to moderate depression showed that just six weeks of taking 248 milligrams of elemental magnesium per day resulted in a significant improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms.
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