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Psychology and pain

Have you ever seen someone happy after they kick their toe? Haveyou ever seen someone swear when they fall over and lose skin off their kneesor elbows? Pain is designed to make us frustrated and at times, angry ordepressed. Pain is designed for one thing – to protect your body. Therefore, if you put your hand in a fire, or cut yourself witha knife, you are meant to be unhappy; or angry; or frustrated. Because your bodywants you to change your situation. Pull your hand out of the fire or stopcutting yourself with a knife.

Acute pain, meaning short term pain, can be helpful. The problemis when the pain persists beyond being helpful. For example, you know that yourknee arthritis is painful – you don’t need to be told every single day. But inchronic pain, you are continuously told about a problem that sometimes youcannot do anything immediately about.

The problem is not just a mere frustration. Chemicals in yourbrain, such as dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin, are controlled by ourmood. These chemicals control neurons in our brain but also the chemicals inour nerves. So, if you are angry, frustrated, stressed or depressed, thechemicals in your nerves which are painful, can also be affected. Researchshows that being depressed or angry can worsen chronic pain. Worrying that our pain may never go away, what we call‘catastrophising’, can make your pain worse. Spending time thinking about it atnight before bed can make our pain worse. Feeling helpless or lost can make our pain worse.

Unfortunately, these feelings we get from pain also change the way we live our lives. We stop working because we worry that might flare ourpain, or we don’t socialise as much because we are too grumpy or sad to do so.We stop doing simple things like walking which helps our health. We may even eat worse gaining weight or take up unhelpful activities such as smoking or drinking alcohol to excess.

Managing your pain is not just about reducing your pain. We need to work with you to target these other problems that the pain has caused you. Sometimes just reducing someone’s pain, does not get them out of the frustration spiral of pain. This is where formal help becomes useful. If you had a problem with an electrical socket, you wouldn’t think twice about getting professional help. Why should it be any different ifyour mood has been changed by chronic pain? It is very hard to ‘think’ ourselves out of trouble when our mood is low, motivation is low, and all we seeis a long dark tunnel without a light at the end. Sometimes we have had hard times or trauma in our past which makes recovering from the difficulties of chronic pain even more challenging on our own.

Pain affects our mood and feelings

It’s important we get help. A bit like any good athlete needs agood coach; it is often useful to have a supportive team around you when managing persistent pain. At Resolve Pain we have Hannah Tregea, health psychologist, who can work with you to get you back on track. Pain psychology can target areas such as improving motivation, sleep, worrying thinking, improve mood and lower stress, as well as to learn more about how pain works. Research shows that if we target these areas, outcomes are much better in the long term.

Your health team may have recommended psychology as part of your management. We promise you it is not because we think you are ‘crazy’ or that pain is ‘all in your head’– as most people wonder. Everyone has worries and everyone has stress. Psychology is just another way of helping manage that to make every day a better one. And this is ultimately our goal with you at Resolve Pain.

Some of these videos below may give you more things to think about which may ultimately lead to better treatment and sronger recovery.

Please be aware if you are experiencing thoughts or feelings of harming yourself or ending you life, please call support services such as your GP or Lifeline to gain more urgent support - 13 11 14 -

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