Living with Chronic Pain

The Relationship Between Chronic Pain and Anxiety


Mental health challenges often accompany the physical symptoms of chronic pain. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health challenges associated with chronic pain. Recent studies suggest that between 35% and 60% of people with chronic pain may also have an anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.

The relationship between chronic pain and anxiety is often cyclical. Increased chronic pain levels tend to worsen anxiety, and anxiety often leads to more frequent or severe pain.

The effect of chronic pain on anxiety

It is common to experience stress when chronic pain is an issue. Worries about what is causing the pain, how long it will last, and how it will affect the present and future may develop. Over time, this stress can lead to feelings of anxiety or even an anxiety disorder.

Also, chronic pain causes changes in parts of the brain that process emotions. These changes make it more difficult to control emotions, including anxiety.

The effect of anxiety on chronic pain

Anxiety can increase chronic pain in a few ways. First, stress causes chemical changes in the brain that can lower the body’s pain threshold, which means that stress can actually worsen the sensation of pain.

Second, excessive anxiety about pain levels may lead to a decrease in movement and activity. This causes muscle weakening and other physical deconditioning, which often increases pain.

Third, anxiety causes tension in the body’s nervous system. This leads to physical changes, such as constriction of blood vessels. Over time, this can cause muscle tension and spasms, which can worsen many types of chronic pain.

Bottom line

Since the connection between chronic pain and anxiety is so strong, treatment for both physical and emotional symptoms is recommended. Treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or medications for anxiety, can improve mental well-being, reduce pain, and lead to an improved quality of life.

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