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My Advice on How to Cope with the Cyclical Relationship Between Anxiety and Chronic Pain

Anxiety affects each of us, especially those with chronic pain.

Anxiety affects all of us and you are not alone or unusual for feeling anxious. 

Tightness in your chest, tense muscles, elevated heart rate, knot in your stomach, insomnia, racing thoughts – all of these symptoms of anxiety affect each of us at one point or another. Anxiety encompasses feeling worried, nervous, or apprehensive about something unknown or uncertain. Anxiety ranges from short-term experiences to a nervous disorder including panic attacks or feeling out of control when you experience anxiety. Anxiety affects all of us and each of us experiences different symptoms and triggers.

Although anxiety affects each of us at some point, it goes undiscussed and unacknowledged within our society. American culture sends a message to “just deal with it” or ignore it rather than acknowledging the common experience of anxiety. This message shames the anxious individual instead of supporting them through empathy and understanding. I seek to diminish this shaming narrative by normalizing the experience of anxiety and discussing coping skills. You are not alone or unusual for feeling anxious. While we don’t live in a culture that feels the same way, anxiety truly is a part of life.

This is especially true for chronic pain patients, the population I most frequently serve and my area of expertise. I’ve seen the pattern of anxiety coupled with chronic pain throughout my 25+ years of experience working with chronic pain patients. I’ve seen the cyclical nature of chronic pain and anxiety: the more pain a person experiences, the more anxious they feel, therefore the more pain they experience, and so on. This cycle occurs due to the fact that pain roots itself in our emotions and is based in our emotional experiences. It is estimated that 70% of a person’s pain is an emotional response to the pain, including anxiety. This means anxiety and pain are inextricably intertwined, making chronic pain a condition to be treated with a focus on mental health. An increase in anxiety results in an increase in pain, so one of the ways I treat my pain patients includes teaching coping skills for anxiety. Below is a list of some of my favorite methods for coping with anxiety. I hope these methods help you cope with anxiety and enable you to experience it without shame.

*Yoga therapy incorporates stretching and movement of the body as well as mindfulness techniques to regain a connection between mind and body through light stretching. This type of mind-body-spirit connection through yoga decrease anxiety by centering oneself through the physical practice of yoga.

*Qi Gong is a slow-moving and gentle physical practice that enhances balance, cleanses the body, and circulates chi. Qi Gong’s effects of mind-body-spirit interaction as a coping skill for anxiety functions similarly to the way yoga therapy relieves clients of anxiety.

*Exercise on a regular basis provides a steady stream of endorphins in the body, which enhances the emotions of an individual, therefore decreasing the levels of anxiety and pain. Exercise has been found to increase strength and lower stress, which also contributes to a lessening of anxiety and pain.

Acupuncture places small, sterilizes needles along the pressure points, or energetic pathways, along the body to balance and increase flow of energy throughout the body. This serves to relieve anxiety by increasing healthy flow of energy throughout the body to stabilize the individual as a whole physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Acupressure uses pressure of the fingertips on the same pressure points, or energetic pathways, along the body in order to achieve the same effects as acupuncture. Acupressure offers an alternative approach to acupuncture for individuals uncomfortable with or unable to use needles.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) refers to a framework that considers the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of an individual as directly related to each other. CBT teaches patients to change thought patterns in order to change emotions, therefore decreasing anxiety.

*Meditation involves focusing on something specific (a word, phrase, or image) in order to quiet the mind. Quieting the mind relieves the patient of anxiety as meditation slows the stream of anxiety-inducing thoughts and creates a sense of peace and calm within the individual.

*Healthy relationships serve as a support system to an individual addressing anxiety These relationships encourage, support, and care for the individual in a healthy way. Unhealthy relationships cause stress on the individual, which can increase anxiety.

*These are remedies that can be incorporated in the home or DIY by using resources such as YouTube for videos about these remedies and anxiety.

To learn more about Dr. James Flowers and his chronic pain and addiction treatment, please visit the website of his treatment center in Austin, Driftwood Recovery

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