Coping with Chronic Pain and Depression

There is a well-established connection between depression and chronic pain. Depression itself can have physical and often painful symptoms. It can also change our brain’s sensitivity to painful stimuli and make it harder for us to cope with pain. On the other side of the scale, the daily battles and exhaustion of living with chronic pain can lead to depression developing or getting worse as we struggle to cope with the limitations our bodies put on us. This can lead to a never ending cycle which can be very difficult to break away from.

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Living with depression and chronic pain is very difficult. We’ve put together a list of tips, with the help of our Peer Support Group, to help you make life as manageable as possible and start to break down the pain/depression cycle.

Chronic Pain and Depression: Explain to your doctors about both

It is important to remind doctors that you live with chronic pain and depression. If you needed to have an operation or investigation for your pain related condition make sure your consultant knows how your depression is affecting you so they can make adjustments – schedule you earlier in the day, put you in a side room and/or make sure they explain everything step by step. Alternatively, if you have counselling for depression make sure they are aware of any physical limitations you have so they can make sure the room is on the ground floor/easily accessible.

Write down what you want to say

Depression (as well as many chronic pain conditions such as Fibromyalgia/CFS/ME) can cause brain fog and memory problems. Start the list a few weeks before your appointment and add to it whenever something pops into your mind so you don’t forget anything (don’t forget to take it with you, though!) When you go take a friend or family member with you – appointments can be overwhelming and they will often remember things you don’t or ask questions you don’t think of. Making lists can help in other areas of your life as well.

Make your medication work for you, not against you

If your tablets make you drowsy, take them in the evening to help you sleep. Both pain and depression are made worse by a lack of sleep so if you can get a good bedtime routine and sleep hygiene habits it will help all round. Some pain medication can exacerbate depression and some anti-depressants can be used to help pain – so make sure your doctor is looking at the whole picture and possibly speaking to psychiatrists and pain specialists to make sure there are no contradictions.

Know your own limits

A great tip we received from the Peer Support Group, was to keep a Symptom and Mood Diary. By doing this you will be able to see which activities help or hinder your mental or physical illnesses. Above all be kind to yourself, it is not your fault your body is putting you through all this and you deserve to be pampered. Massages and warm baths can do wonders for relaxing our bodies and our minds which in turn makes the pain more bearable.

Tips from the Peer Support Group included:

“Not being afraid to say No to things when you are struggling (especially if you know it’ll make it worse)”
“It is more than OK to need a bad day if you’ve had a busy day the day before!”
“It is hard juggling physical and mental health needs. Learning to pace myself and keeping a symptom and mood diary have been paramount to my feeling more in control of living rather than just existing.”
“…aside from counselling I rest lots, watch TV dramas or comedy to keep my mind occupied, colour in, sing or cook some nice food.”

Look into Mindfulness

Mindfulness can have great applications for both depression and pain management. Some pain clinics offer courses or you can find out more about it BeMindful. Members of our Peer Support Group also suggested meditation and yoga could be beneficial, as well as getting outside for fresh air and to engage with nature.

“Writing things down about my mood, what i experience, it helps to move even if i don’t want to and rather stay in bed, mindfulness, yoga and meditation helps me, go outside for walks and enjoy nature, work with my body and learn to say no.”

Look at your diet

For some chronic pain conditions, such as IBS or Crohns, what you eat will play a big part in how you feel; for all of us, having a balanced diet is essential to our feelings of well-being. Unfortunately, this is often one of the first things to go when we are feeling run down. Our Peer Support Group suggested making meals in advance and freezing when we are having good days, asking friends and family to help out by providing meals for us and keeping healthy snacks around the house and out with us.

“I suffer from IBS. It took a long time to figure out what foods to stay away from but once I found my ‘safe foods’ the rest became easier. On my more functional days I would prepare large meals that I would box up and freeze for when I’m too low to look after myself properly.
Chamomile tea helps my muscles to relax (sometimes the pain causes me to clench up which causes more pain) and peppermint tea can also help with digestive issues.
Sometimes ibs took a toll on my social life, like having meals out with friends. Don’t let it isolate you. Find a way around it, invite them over for dinner, have a picnic, or go somewhere you’re allowed to bring your own food.”
“Drinking plenty of water or juice to stop feeling sick, and taking nutrient supplements to make sure my diet is full. No i don’t always eat well because when you feel like rubbish the last thing you wanna do is cook a healthy meal but a sand which with lettuce or a bagel with cream cheese to keel me fed.
I also like to carry healthy snacks such as breakfast bars and the odd yogurt break bars. This keeps me going when i feel my energy dipping without caffeine.”

Know that you are not alone

There are forums and Facebook groups for almost all conditions and talking to other people who know what we are going through can always help us feel supported. Our own Peer Support Group is for those affected by depression but many of our members also have chronic pain conditions as well. You’d be very welcome to join us.

Sharing is caring: please share this post to help others, you never know who might need it. 

  • Julie Dylan Edwards

    this is a brilliant article ! it explains so much that i and i am sure countless other people who suffer with depression and chronic pain want people to know and understand about depression other than what those who are lucky enough never to have experienced depression themselves think they know about it all.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Really glad you think the article is useful Julie, thanks for commenting 🙂