Chronic Pain Can Change the Way Your Brain Processes Emotions

Living with chronic pain can hurt your mental state, as well. People who are constantly experiencing pain often develop issues like anxiety and depression, along with all the negative effects that come with them. Mood swings, sleep disturbances, memory issues, and lack of concentration — those are quite common conditions among those who suffer from chronic pain.

Yet, scientific research has shown that chronic pain can physically change your brain too. It all comes down to glutamate — a chemical that is responsible for passing information between the specific brain cells that regulate emotions. People suffering from chronic pain produce insufficient amounts of this chemical. As a result, their brain cells cannot communicate properly.

Table of Content

S. No.Content
1.Chronic Pain Alters the Central Nervous System
2.Chronic Pain and Depression
3.Chronic Pain Can Change Who You Are
4.Chronic Pain’s Effects on Your Personal Life
5.Knowing the Facts Will Help You Recover

Consequently, they tend to be anxious, scared, tired, and overly pessimistic all the time. A team of Australian scientists even managed to prove this by scanning the brain activity of 19 patients suffering from nerve or joint pain and comparing it to that of healthy individuals.

Constant pain results in permanent stress, which leads to issues with your brain’s chemistry. When under mental strain, the brain produces a chemical called cortisol, which is closely linked to glutamate. Excessive amounts of both chemicals can effectively kill brain cells. That further adds to the feeling of mental discomfort and hopelessness.

Chronic Pain Alters the Central Nervous System

While the effects of chronic pain might sound exaggerated to some, only people who have to deal with it know how crippling it can be. The sad truth is that this condition severely affects the quality of a person’s life in more ways than one.

Research has shown that the brain processes chronic pain differently than acute pain. If you suffer from the former, your body might attempt to change your central nervous system and alter parts of it that are responsible for pain inhibition.

This process makes you prone to depressive states, anxiety, and fear. Thus, chronic pain is now considered a neurological disease by itself and is often coupled with those mental irregularities.

Chronic Pain and Depression

Depression and chronic pain are closely linked. If both conditions exist uncontrolled, they greatly worsen all related symptoms. So, if you suffer from both, you will experience much higher pain levels than a person who is not depressed.

Unfortunately, depression remains undiagnosed in many cases, leaving doctors unable to administer the correct treatment for the pain. As such, it is important for medical professionals to accurately assess both the physical and mental condition of a patient before deciding on a treatment.

Living with constant pain makes you susceptible to depressive thoughts, feelings, and general anxiety. The situation can get even worse if you need to take prescription meds to lessen the pain.

Since opioids influence the brain into a euphoric state, many people abuse them to halt both the physical and mental strain temporarily. Such behavior can lead to dependency and does little to fight the actual problem. As soon as the effect of the medication wears off, the negative feelings return stronger than before. As a result, you crave a return to the euphoric state — and that is how dependencies begin.

Imagining that you are in much more pain than you are really in is called “pain catastrophizing.” It leads to anxiety, depression, a sense of helplessness, and consequent loss of basic functions. In the end, patients believe they are in so much pain that they actively avoid any physical activity. That might be a big issue when it comes to treatment and rehabilitation plans.

Chronic Pain Can Change Who You Are

If you are experiencing chronic pain and don’t know whether it will ever stop, your identity might also start changing to accommodate the new status quo. You might find yourself unable to perform tasks that were routine before or do things that you have always enjoyed. Such feelings of powerlessness can have a strong influence on your identity and change it for good.

People value their identity in different ways, depending on their gender, ethnicity, education, and socio-economic status. But if your chronic pain has a negative effect on certain characteristics that are essential to you, you will almost certainly experience a shift in your personality, which will only worsen the problem.

If you suffer from chronic pain, you might also feel isolated from the rest of the world. Other people usually have a hard time relating to problems that they cannot see for themselves.

Chronic Pain’s Effects on Your Personal Life

Chronic pain is capable of affecting every area of your life — from your job to your family and friends. It is quite difficult to accept that you will no longer be able to do things that you previously enjoyed. When something has that much control over your life, you cannot help but feel discouraged, depressed, and anxious.

The effects of chronic pain on your body and mind can change your family dynamics. For instance, you will have to delegate some of your usual tasks to other family members due to your condition. Also, other family members might start communicating less with you because they do not want to bother you unnecessarily.

Your family might also experience financial troubles, increased stress, and problems with intimacy. In some extreme cases, members might feel resentment toward you and your problem.

In families where someone suffers from chronic pain, validation, and acceptance are key. Everyone needs to do their best to help the patient feel involved and not stigmatized in any way.

It is not uncommon for people who deal with pain to be less sociable, easily irritated, and lack empathy toward others. Such behavior leads to disruptions in their social lives since they are more likely to stay at home instead of going out and being around other people. Unfortunately, the side effects of living in pain can have an adverse effect on your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers.

Still, one of the biggest issues related to chronic pain is society’s perception that you are not strong enough to deal with it. Some people even avoid treatment for fear of being labeled as “weak.” Such thoughts can also contribute to your tendency toward negativity and depression.

Sleep Irregularities

Being in constant pain naturally disturbs your sleep patterns. You might find it difficult to get enough sleep due to the pain, or you might have trouble falling asleep at all.

Lack of sleep also has a rather negative effect on your brain. It usually makes you more susceptible to anxiety and depression.

Lack of Concentration and Memory Issues

Finally, we know that living with constant pain causes great mental strain in most people. As a result, you might experience memory issues or an inability to concentrate. A brain that is permanently dealing with pain has trouble processing and storing long-term information. You might have a hard time remembering recent events or become unable to focus on something for a prolonged period.

Knowing the Facts Will Help You Recover

Patients who have to deal with chronic pain should know how the condition can affect their mental well-being. If you are aware of the causes of your depression, you will have a better chance to overcome it eventually.

Medical professionals should also understand why their chronic pain patients exhibit depressive behavior and anxiety. It is not just about a lack of willpower or self-pity. Doctors need to recognize that there is a medical reason why such patients act that way.

Unfortunately, living with chronic pain is a never-ending struggle. You need to deal with both the physical pain and the emotional distress it causes at the same time. It might seem impossible to deal with all of the symptoms at once. However, with the help of friends, family, and healthcare experts, you will begin enjoying life once more.

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