Pain Induced Anxiety and How to Get Away From It

This wasn’t my originally planned topic for this week, but it seemed fitting after I woke up an anxious wreck yesterday. Full blown cold, more aches and pains than usual (likely due to said cold), and anxiety through the roof upon opening my eyelids. So how did I get past the pain/health-induced anxiety of the morning?


As I mentioned in a previous post, anxiety versus chronic pain can be a chicken and egg story, however, when chronic pain can be explained by an illness (such as an autoimmune disease, cancer, etc) or an injury, than in most cases it will have probably come before the anxiety started. That certainly was the case for me. I’ve spent the past few months examining my own anxiety and find that it’s usually only really terrible when I’m in a lot of pain or not feeling well in general… i.e, yesterday. The panicked thoughts in my mind don’t necessarily have anything to do with how I’m physically feeling but I would bet some hard money that how I’m physically feeling is the link. Truly, until I started to experience chronic pain, and was ultimately (though tentatively) diagnosed with lupus, I had rarely experienced anxiety (except maybe the occasional looming credit card bill, etc., that most adults encounter from time to time).


How to deal with anxiety caused by chronic pain has been a focus of the psychotherapy sessions I have been having since November 2016 (minus the first month or so which was mostly post-breakup talk). My therapist is still in school and I have to give her a lot of credit for researching techniques to help the anxiety of chronic pain warriors and to help the physical pain as well. The thing I’ve found is that it takes a lot of personal fucking work to deal with this type of anxiety (though I’m going to go out on a small limb and say it probably does for any type of anxiety), especially in the moment. My first thought upon waking up yesterday wasn’t “how do I combat this anxiety?” To be honest, I can’t remember what my first thought was but my heart was pounding and my mind raced several miles per minute as I struggled to breath due to clogged nostrils. Not a pretty picture. The great thing is, I did manage to divert my attention getting out of this anxious state.


I bet you’re wondering how I managed to do that? Or maybe you’re sitting there with a guess or some self experience. Regardless, I’m going to take a few minutes to share what worked for me yesterday. As I mentioned, my first thought upon waking wasn’t how to get out of this anxious state, but it was a thought that came quickly. First thing I did was some deep breathing. Four seconds in, four second hold, four seconds out (yes this was hard considering my cold but worth it). Count of ten. That definitely helped to slow my heart and my mind. The next thing I did was divert my attention. Lucky for me (well my own doing but still) my dog sleeps on my bed, and convincing him to have a morning cuddle is never hard. The rhythmic breathing of a dog can make them very calming for anyone who deals with anxiety. I also started to think about what I was working on for writing, my upcoming trip, and whether I felt well enough to go to work (between the cold and the pain, I definitely did not). Once I was up and dressed, feeling much better by this point I might add, I headed out the door to the doctor. Seeing as I’m headed out of the country at the end of the week, and don’t really want to have a terrible cold on the plane, I figured I might as well get checked out. Autoimmune disease warriors often end up more susceptible to colds, flus, etc., anyway so it definitely doesn’t hurt adding in an extra doctor’s visit. While making the short commute I listened to a self-love podcast, which helped decrease some of the remaining anxiety, and by the time I got back to my house a little while later, though still with a cold and in pain, my anxiety was gone.

16508670_10158166788755032_1314205351467722425_nMy dog, Spike.

I’m not saying that these techniques are going to work for everyone or every time. Lately, they do seem to work for me more often than not, but it takes a lot of work and self-awareness to make sure it does. I also highly recommend anyone dealing with a similar situation also seeks out the help of a therapist of some sort. If you’re concerned with costs, my suggestion is to seek out a student. I pay $40 an hour and go every two to three weeks. Sometimes at universities they are free (though there are usually long wait lists). They do discuss your case with a supervisor, but never give out your name. If you can afford and/or prefer to seek out someone finished their schooling and fully qualified, go for it. This is more of a suggestion for anyone, who like me, can’t afford as much.

Having a medical team that understands your diagnosis as a whole is incredibly important. A lot of research has been put into anxiety as a cause of illness but also as an effect of illness. Cognitive behavioural therapy is becoming more and more routinely suggested for anyone dealing with chronic pain, and seems to be an important part of treating it.

I hope this helps give some insight (and for caregivers, friends, lovers, families, coworkers, etc., I hope this helps you to understand your warrior), and that some of these techniques might be useful to you. If you have any additional anxiety-combating techniques you use, feel free to comment on the post, or email me.




Fighting Chronic Pain: The Body-Mind Connection

Anyone who battles chronic pain is known as a Chronic Pain Warrior. This makes perfect sense if you think about it. We use words like battle, and fight. Who goes to battles? Warriors. Not to mention, it’s a much stronger stance to take than patient or sufferer. Who wants to be known as one of those? I’ll take warrior any day. (Coincidentally, the store I work at is nicknamed the Warriors, so I’m a warrior literally all the time). I initially never thought about a body-mind connection in regards to my chronic pain. What does my mind have to do with my shoulder hurting? (I use shoulder as an example because it’s hurting while I write this). It was seeing a naturopath that changed my perspective on this. She immediately started to focus on healing both the physical symptoms in my body, using techniques such as acupuncture and prescribing natural medications like curcumin and magnesium. As well as mini talk therapy during our sessions. We even have similar conversations, just in less detail, that I have with my therapist. Her belief, and now mine, is that the entire body, which includes the mind, needs to be healed together, as one.

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The perception of pain is different for everyone. When asked how bad my pain feels on a scale from 1 to 10, my answer of 7 may feel different than someone else’s answer of 7 (which is one of the many reasons I hate that question, though I understand why medical practitioners need to use some sort of scale). No one is denying that chronic illnesses cause pain. I can have the happiest day ever and still experience physical pain in an area (or areas) of my body. What I’ve learned and experienced though, is that the amount of pain felt can be controlled, to some degree, by my mental state. For example, when my anxiety was at its worst last summer, so was my pain. Which came first? I feel as though it was my physical pain but it’s the classic chicken and egg story. Physical pain probably caused the anxiety but worsened anxiety could have easily made my physical pain worse. The worst day for pain was the day after I moved out of my ex-girlfriend’s place. I ended up in the hospital. The stress and anxiety increased by the breakup likely had an effect on how much physical pain I was experiencing.

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So the big question probably is, how does this all work? How do I train my mind to make my body feel better. I definitely have not found this an easy process, nor is there a truly definitive answer. The truth is, I may never find it easy and there may never be a definitive answer. After six months of psychotherapy, naturopathy, physiotherapy, and massage therapy, I do find I am in less pain (what was once a daily 7-8 on a scale of 10, is now about a 4-5), and my anxiety levels have decreased by half (from an 8 to a 4). Healing through self-love and self-acceptance definitely has played a huge role. There are lots of other ways I have controlled my mind to help ease the pain. The hardest part is to remember to do it while in pain. Since for me, it comes and goes throughout the day, it’s using different techniques when it does come that are most important (Except at night, I often feel like there’s nothing to be done – there will be a future post on medical marijuana).
Some mind techniques that have worked for me:

  1. Deep breathing – just take a few minutes to focus solely on your breath. The pain may not fully go away, but at the very least ease for a few minutes.
  2. Altered focus – shifting your attention to parts of your body that are not in pain. Or, thinking about something completely different that has nothing to do with pain. I.e., a happy memory you have, a vacation you plan on taking, a project you have at work or school.
  3. Reducing stress – if there are things in your life that are causing you stress and you’re able to let them go, do just that. Maybe a change in career, diet, letting go of friends that are unsupportive, or using meditation to destress after a long day and busy day.
  4. Distraction – as a creative person by nature, I find that while I do things like read, write, paint, or play the piano I have zero pain. This won’t work for every moment of the day, but whenever I have the chance, I try to do at least one of these things. Even if you aren’t “creative” (by the way, I believe everyone is creative, just in different ways) try doing something anyway. Blast some music and sing or dance along, buy some paints and canvases from the dollar store and make some terrible art. You might be surprised at how well this type of distraction works.
IMG_0848This hilariously terrible painting is done by yours truly.

It’s not about tricking your mind, and honestly, I believe that everyone who struggles with chronic pain should also be seeing a talk therapist of sort sort, as well as a naturopath to deal with any emotional difficulties they have surrounding their chronic pain and other areas of their life. A good therapist will come up with specific ways to help you deal with your physical pain while dealing with your emotions. Keeping a positive outlook on your life, as hard as that might be, helps as well. I hop you have a great, low to no pain week!


Tips for choosing a naturopath:

  1. Ask your doctor who they recommend. Usually naturopaths with a ND require referrals from your doctor, so see if they have a recommendation for you.
  2. Decide if you would like a Naturopathic Doctor (someone who graduated from a naturopathic medical school and passed board exams) or a Traditional Naturopath who has a diploma.
  3. Determine if they are experienced in treating your specific health concerns. Just as them about their experience.
  4. See if they practice what they preach. If they lead a healthy lifestyle, they are more likely able to work with you on yours.
  5. Find out if they are willing to work with your other medical practitioners. My naturopath always wants to stay up to date with my visits to my rheumatologist, family doctor, psychotherapist, physiotherapist, and massage therapist.
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