Physical and psychological pain can have a profound impact on day-to-day lives, affecting various aspects of how we function, and our thoughts, emotions, behaviour, and overall wellbeing. There is not one area of our life that will not be impacted by such pain.

The extent of this impact can vary depending on factors such as the severity and duration of the pain, our own coping mechanisms, support system, and underlying health conditions.

Examples include:

Functionality and productivity: Both physical and / or psychological pain can limit our ability to carry out daily activities and tasks, including our day job. Physical pain may restrict mobility and reduce energy levels, making it challenging to perform work, household chores, or recreational activities. Psychological pain, such as depression or anxiety, can impair concentration, memory, and decision-making, affecting work productivity and overall functioning.

Social interactions: Chronic pain, whether physical or psychological, can lead to social withdrawal. People in pain may avoid social interactions due to discomfort, fear of judgment, or feelings of helplessness. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and exacerbate the emotional toll of pain.

Emotional wellbeing: Both types of pain can have significant emotional impacts. Physical pain can lead to frustration, irritability, fear and mood swings. Psychological pain, such as grief or trauma, can cause sadness, anger, and anxiety. Over time, chronic pain, in particular, can have a profound impact on mental health, leading to conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Mental health disorders: Chronic pain is often associated with an increased risk of developing mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. The constant burden of pain can lead to a cycle of emotional distress and physical discomfort.

Sleep disturbances: Pain, whether physical or psychological, can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or fragmented sleep. Poor sleep quality can further worsen pain perception and negatively affect cognitive function and emotional regulation. Quality of sleep also has a direct impact on how we cope with the day’s events, our emotions and our wellbeing.

Cognitive function: Chronic pain can impair cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and processing speed. Psychological pain can also lead to cognitive distortions and difficulty in focusing on daily tasks.

Physical health: Unmanaged physical pain can lead to a decline in overall physical health. For instance, chronic pain may limit our ability to exercise and engage in physical activities, which can contribute to weight gain, muscle weakness, and other health issues.

Interpersonal relationships: Pain can put a strain on relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Chronic pain may require understanding and support from loved ones, but it can also lead to conflicts and misunderstandings when others have difficulty empathising with the person’s experience.

Coping Mechanisms: Both physical and psychological pain can influence coping mechanisms, and may see decisions that result in avoiding certain situations, isolation, or relying on pain medication. These coping strategies can further influence mental and emotional wellbeing.

Quality of life: Ultimately, physical and psychological pain can significantly impact our quality of life. Persistent pain can lead to a diminished sense of wellbeing, reduced life satisfaction, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities. It may limit the ability to participate in activities previously enjoyed, maintain relationships, and achieve life goals, leading to a sense of helplessness and loss of identity.

Another consideration, particularly in relation to physical pain, is whether the pain is acute or chronic, as this also has a bearing on our perception of day-to-day life, how we are managing the pain and the influence it plays on our choices and actions.

the mind

What is the difference between acute and chronic pain?

Pain is subjective, and can be triggered for all sorts of reasons, though it’s also important to understand pain may be short term, but it can also last for months and even years.

 Acute pain is short term pain, typically lasting for a limited period, often defined as lasting less than three to six months. This type of pain may be caused by an injury, illness, emotional wellbeing or medical condition, such as surgery, trauma, infections, or medical procedures. As a result of the underlying event, acute pain often has a sudden onset and serves as a warning signal to the body, indicating attention and healing is required. As the body recovers from the underlying cause, the pain tends to subside. This also applies to emotional pain, where time is a healer from the sudden onset of intense pain.

An analogy of such acute pain is the smoke alarm in your home; smoke from a device or even cooker signals there is danger of fire, and the alarm sounds instantly, loudly, continuously until you deal with the situation and eliminate the danger area.

Chronic Pain is longer-lasting and can even persist ongoing, depending on the underlying cause of the pain, which may not always be obvious! It can result from an initial injury or condition, but it continues or recurs even after the initial cause has healed. Our bodies are complex we can also experience referred pain, therefore an area of your body may experience the ongoing pain, but it’s as a result of another area. Chronic pain does not serve as a warning signal like acute pain, but instead is considered a disorder or defective messaging, where the body has not correctly processed and instead continues to give the pain signal even when it’s no longer required.

Back to the smoke alarm analogy above, and in relation to chronic pain, the alarm sounded, the situation was handled and any danger removed. However, the alarm continues to be set off despite there being nothing untoward in the home; the alarm has become faulty, ringing out, and no longer advising what is genuine or real about the situation in the home.

Treatment approaches for acute and chronic pain may differ. Acute pain is often treated with the focus on resolving the underlying cause and providing symptomatic relief through pain medications, and other interventions. In contrast, chronic pain management often requires a more comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach, which may involve medications, physical therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, lifestyle changes, counselling, and pain management techniques to improve the person’s overall quality of life.

It’s important to note that the distinction between acute and chronic pain is not always straightforward, and some conditions may transition from acute to chronic pain if not adequately managed or treated.

If you or someone you know is experiencing pain that lasts for an extended period, it’s essential to seek medical attention and discuss the symptoms with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and management.

reflection

So what can you do to help improve managing pain?

Managing pain and safeguarding wellbeing involves a holistic approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of pain. It is important not to ignore the pain, but address it, seek ways to help, and enable an easing and ideally, eradication.

Pain, regardless of psychological and / or physical, can become a large, if not the main focus of attention, and become the centre of thoughts and conversations, impacting activities, decisions and general wellbeing. There are many studies that have highlighted the importance of distracting the mind away from the pain, as when achieved perception of pain levels lower. This does not mean the pain is not real, but more about giving room in the mind to think of other things.

Some suggestions to help manage and alleviate pain include:

  • Consult your GP, or another health care professional as soon as feasible
  • Treat the physical pain with heat / ice, and take pain medication when appropriate, and seek advice from a pharmacist or other medical professional on what is most effective.
  • Reach out to a physiotherapist or rehabilitation personal trainer for guidance on managing pain, improving mobility, strengthening muscles, and activities to assist wellbeing.
  • Consider exploring alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy, mindfulness or yoga.
  • Also consider lifestyle changes to best assist your healing and ensure a healthy approach.
  • Engage with stress management techniques, particularly when suffering chronic pain which is considered linked to stress levels.
  • Rest or at least avoid over-exertion; listen to your body and become aware what helps or hinders pain levels.
  • Engage with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, coach, counsellor or other support platforms that will help to address thought patterns and behaviours that may be impacting pain levels, and develop better coping strategies.
  • Reach out to your trusted support network, and if there is no one you can reach out to, seek talking support through medical routes.
  • Prioritise health sleep practices and what will help you in a healthy way.
  • Be kind to yourself!
  • Ensure you have some quiet time, allow your mind and body to rest and recharge.

Remember that pain management is individualised, and what works for one person may not work for another. It may take time to find the most effective strategies for managing your pain and improving your wellbeing.

Don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance and support throughout your pain management journey. Whether physical, emotional or mental health pain, there is a vast array of support, the first step is seeking and asking for help.

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