How the pandemic has affected those with living pain
Many people have suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety this past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who struggle with chronic conditions including chronic back pain are often more susceptible to depression, which may have been compounded this past year because of the pandemic.
“Since the pandemic, I have seen an increase in patients who are suffering from chronic pain and depression,” says GinaMarie Guarino, a New York City-based Licensed Mental Health Counselor and founder of PsychPoint.com
“Chronic pain is a risk factor of depression, and the pressure of the pandemic coupled with a lack of easy access to medical resources that many people faced during the pandemic caused people to suffer from a depressed mood and seek counseling to cope,” Guarino says.
Those with chronic pain, such as chronic back pain, may also battle with mental health issues, as their ailments may limit their activities, take away their sense of independence, or lower their self-esteem.
“Depending on the degree of chronic pain, people may feel helpless and hopeless to feel better, which both contribute to a depressed mood,” Guarino says. “The pandemic has caused people to be cut off from each other, and a lack of access to loved ones and medical resources has caused people who live with chronic pain to suffer from a depressed mood at increasing rates.”
Being isolated from family and friends for an extended time can have a negative impact on anyone, but especially those with chronic illnesses. Individuals with a personal or family history of depression or mood disorders are at an increased risk. Recognizing the signs of depression is the first step to seeking help.
Symptoms of depression can vary. More common symptoms include frequent crying spells and feelings of sadness, emotional numbness, and changes in appetite and sleeping habits.
“Depression caused by chronic pain can also cause lesser known symptoms like irritability, anger outbursts, feelings of worthlessness, isolation from friends and family, and restlessness,” says Guarino. “In more severe cases, a person with chronic pain and depression may experience suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm.”
Bouts of depression affect everyone differently. A patient’s depressed state may subside when chronic conditions are properly treated, while other people may continue to struggle with mental health issues even after their chronic illnesses are alleviated. Those afflicted by chronic aches and pains should not only seek treatment for their physical needs but for their mental needs as well.
“The best way for a person to overcome depression is to address their emotional pain as well as their physical pain,” Guarino says. “Seeking counseling as close to the onset of symptoms as possible can show the best results.”
Online therapy has grown in popularity because of the pandemic, making it easier for individuals to seek help from the comfort of their own homes.
“Online therapy offers emotional support and education about depression, along with coping skills to manage depressed mood and stress related to the pandemic,” Guarino says.
Guarino also recommends meditation or mindfulness.
“Mindfulness-based cognitive behavior therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy can be especially helpful for depression and chronic pain,” she says. “Both teach distress tolerance and relaxation skills, along with thought challenging skills that minimize negative thought patterns that contribute to depressed mood.”
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy focuses on mindfulness techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises, which can help on days when people are stressed or anxious. Though it is recommended that people practice meditation for at least 20 minutes daily, even as little as five minutes of meditation can calm the mind and reset your mood.
Guarino added that relaxation is especially beneficial to those who suffer from chronic pain, since it may relieve muscle tension that could add to the pain.
Healthline.com also suggests keeping a daily routine and holding yourself accountable for the routine while giving yourself grace and taking it one day at a time. Mayoclinic.org recommends exercising or journaling to help curb depressed moods. Sometimes, pain rehabilitation programs or antidepressant medications may also be helpful.
Staying connected with friends and family and being as social as possible, even if it is from a distance, is also key. Aim for Zoom calls or outdoor events if you remain uncomfortable meeting face-to-face like you once did pre-pandemic.
“It is also important to maintain social relationships even during the pandemic because a social support network is an important component to managing a depressed mood,” Guarino says.
Connecting with others who are going through a similar situation may also help chronic pain sufferers who may be feeling more down because of the pandemic.
“Support from people with similar experiences can make a big difference in how intensely you are affected by depression,” Guarino says. “You may need to get creative, but there are sources of support available to you. You may need to step outside of your comfort zone or think outside of the box, but there are ways to get the support you need. Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones.”
Updated: June 22, 2021