Stress and anxiety with chronic pain

People with persistent pain may experience increased physical tension, stress, worry, and fear. Pain itself can also be a source of stress.  Other commonly experienced stressors include lack of sleep, financial concerns, relationships, and family responsibilities. 

An Angus Reid survey done by in partnership with Pain BC and Mindset Social Innovation Foundation found that four-in-five Canadians experiencing significant ongoing pain (83%) say it prevents them from doing regular activities, and for more than half (57%), it contributes to anxiety and depression.          

Stress is a normal part of day-to-day life and is the body’s response to a demand placed on it. It is a combination of physical and emotional factors that affect the body and create tension. Stress occurs when the demands are greater than the resources available and is a protective response that motivates change. The body responds to physical and psychological stressors in the same way.

The stress response occurs when an actual or potential threat is perceived, will activate the sympathetic nervous system (flight, fight or freeze system), and happens automatically. This can lead to changes in our body, emotions, and/or thinking. 

One way to help reduce the impact of stress is through utilizing mind-body techniques. Mind-body techniques have been shown to help relieve pain, tense muscles, anger, stress, anxiety and improve sleep.

There are many different mind-body techniques to choose from.  It’s important to try different methods and find one that suits you.

 

Deep breathing

A simple technique that is highly effective.  As you breathe deeply, your brain learns to calm down and relax. This can be a helpful skill for those suffering with persistent pain Find simple breathing exercises.

Guided imagery

A simple technique that is highly effective.  As you breathe deeply, your brain learns to calm down and relax. This can be a helpful skill for those suffering with persistent pain Find simple breathing exercises.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is a regular, disciplined practice of paying attention to the present, without trying to fix or change anything.  An acceptance of body sensations, thoughts, and emotions without trying to escape, avoid or change them.

Mindfulness is a change in thinking and perspective.  The goal is not relaxation, but relaxation is often the result.

Research has shown that mindfulness can have numerous benefits for those with chronic pain, such as decreasing pain intensity, stress, anxiety, and allowing people to feel more in control of the pain experience. Mindfulness can create change in both brain structure and function.

Learning meditation is like learning to play an instrument.  It takes coaching and practice.  You can learn through books, apps, websites, or in-person classes.

Apps and Online videos:

  • The Mindfulness App – A guided mindfulness meditation app.
  • Insight Timer – The app features mindfulness and guided meditations, music and talks for stress, sleep, and anxiety.
  • Search for Mindfulness videos by Jon-Kabat Zinn, Vidyamala Burch, Elisha Goldstein, and Mark Williams
  • Headspace

Classes:

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation involves a series of exercise in which you tense your muscles as you breathe in and relax them as you breathe out.  You work on specific muscle groups in a certain order. Find a step-by-step guide on how to do progressive muscle relaxation.

Resources for stress and anxiety