Living with Chronic Pain
The Importance of Social Connections When Living With Chronic Pain
Pain is a multifaceted experience that is impacted by various factors. In addition to the physical aspects, such as injury or illness, certain psychological or social factors can influence how pain is tolerated. One component is a person’s relationship with others. Studies have suggested that having social support lowers the intensity of chronic pain.
Anxiety, chronic pain, and social interactions
The relationship between chronic pain and anxiety is often cyclical. Increased chronic pain levels tend to worsen anxiety, and anxiety leads to more frequent or severe pain. Individuals with anxiety tend to have fewer social connections. It is unclear whether the lack of social connections exacerbates anxiety, vice versa, or if they have a cyclic relationship.
How social connections can reduce chronic pain
Individuals with an anxiety disorder are better able to express their concerns during social interactions, such as with family and friends. Additionally, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety can result in an excited state of extra-sensitivity called hypervigilance. This can cause increased pain awareness; however, social connections reduce hypervigilance, which decreases the intensity of pain signals.
Positive social touches, such as hugs, massages, handshakes, holding hands, etc., can change how a person experiences pain. Evidence suggests that the use of a weighted blanket can feel like a hug and help with chronic pain. Social support is also important for maintaining mental health. Chronic pain can increase stress, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. However, maintaining a strong social web provides a person with the support they need to manage these issues.