A nagging neck pain, upset stomach, aching shoulders -- at first glance each one of these symptoms may seem like the result of some bodily insult. Do I have a cold? The Flu? Maybe an infection?! You may be surprised to know that many bodily pathologies originate in the mind.
As we learned in our discussion of the stress response (link article), the mind and body are intimately connected. Stress and depression have physiologic effects on your body! Research has shown that many individuals suffering from chronic pain have high levels of anxiety and depression. Long-term studies have even been able to show that it was the level of anxiety/depression that predicted pain levels, not the other way around (Lerman et al., 2015; Kroenke et al., 2013)!
Now, I want to be clear, I am not saying that anxiety & depression cause chronic pain. Chronic pain comes from a whole variety of different physical insults and is a very tangible problem in health care. Rather, I am proposing that anxiety and depression can worsen existing chronic illness (“Chronic Illness & Mental Health,” 2021; de Heer et al., 2014).
The better we understand the mind-body connection, the better we can treat those who are ill. I bring you this information, not to scare you, but to help you in your potential battle with chronic pain. Understanding the link between our mind and body helps to underscore the importance of taking care of your mind! Mindfulness, counseling, psychiatric care and other forms of self care can be useful tools in your arsenal to reduce anxiety and depression, and potentially reduce the severity of chronic pain.