By Dr. Jennifer Pikard, MD, Msc

As we all well know, mental health and physical health are often conditions that often go hand in hand. We know that those living with more severe mental health troubles are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with physical health problems, many of which include symptoms of acute or chronic pain. We also know that those who have physical health problems are twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety at twice the rate than the general public. It is understandable that those who experience physical health problems may develop these symptoms both as a consequence of a physical health problem or separately. This is because we know that more than 1/5 people suffer from mental health problems regardless of physical health.

What is most interesting are the links we continue to find between the mind and the body. Understanding this delicate relationship can help us to develop strategies that may help prevent and treat the physical and mental health conditions that often exist together. Both acute and chronic pain often present themselves in an infinite number of symptoms and at times cannot be found to have a clear physical cause. This may lead to the development of stigma and for those feeling this pain to think “it’s all in my head”.

Manifestations of Chronic Pain:

  • Past injuries or surgeries
  • Back problems
  • Migraines or other headaches
  • Arthritis
  • Nerve damage
  • Infections
  • Fibromyalgia (a condition where people feel muscle pain throughout their body
  • A dull ache
  • Throbbing
  • Burning/tingling/shooting/squeezing sensation
  • Feeling very tired/weak/lack of energy
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Mood changes

Some Strategies Available for Those Who Might Suffer from both Physical and Emotional Pain:

  • Relaxation training which involves concentration and slow, deep breathing to release tension
  • Visual imagery and distraction techniques involve concentrating on mental pictures of pleasant scenes or events or mentally repeating positive work or phrases to reduce pain
  • Calming techniques are particularly helpful as pain is meant to stimulate the body into action and avoid danger
  • Yoga/tai chi
  • Mindfulness

We will be covering many more helpful strategies throughout our issues of this newsletter. Remember to take care of yourself and advocate to health professionals if you feel you would benefit from a more comprehensive chronic pain/physical health/mental health approach.