There are so many reasons a person might experience chronic pain. For some people, there’s an identifiable underlying health condition causing it. For others, doctors may believe there’s a medical condition leading to the pain, but they can’t figure out exactly what it is. There are also situations like being in a car accident that can lead to long-lasting pain.
We may consider the physical components of constant or nearly constant pain, but what about the mental toll? What are the many ways ongoing chronic pain can affect your quality of life negatively?
Quality of life refers to how well you’re healthy, comfortable and able to both participate and enjoy various activities in life. According to the World Health Organization, quality of life is focused on the context of your culture and values. It’s relative to what your expectations are. Some of the quality of life indicators include wealth and employment, the environment, religious beliefs, safety and security. Your physical and mental health are also indicators. So how does your pain specifically affect these indicators or quality of life factors?
When you deal with pain, it can put a considerable strain on your relationships. You may feel frustrated with yourself which can affect how you treat other people who care about you. You may not want to burden people you love, so you can become more withdrawn.
You may simply not be able to get out and about as much as you did before you were injured or developed a chronic pain condition. This means that you have fewer social interactions, and perhaps relationships suffer. Having a solid social support network is one of the most important things affecting happiness and mental health, so when that begins to unravel due to pain, it can impact many other areas of your life.
Chronic pain is linked to mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. When you live with pain daily or near-daily basis, it can also create chronic stress. Dealing with chronic stress then changes the levels of stress hormones in your brain and other neurochemicals. When there are alterations in brain chemicals, it can affect your thinking, behavior, and mood.
You could experience a cascade effect of other detrimental effects linked with mental health. For example, you could experience fatigue, problems with sleep, or lower self-esteem. These issues can then worsen any depression or anxiety you might be feeling. Research shows that if you’re living with chronic pain, you’re four times more likely to have depression or anxiety.
Pain conditions and injuries can limit what you’re able to do in your daily life. Reduced activity can mean everything from chores and everyday things you need to do to maintain your lifestyle to an inability to do things you once enjoyed, such as certain types of exercise or sports. You may engage in fewer leisure activities simply because you aren’t able to.
If you’re having an issue with long-term pain, it’s inevitably going to affect your career, and like so many of the other factors above, these effects are likely to be multi-faceted. For example, you may miss more work or be late more often because of the pain directly or because of things like medical appointments.
This will impact your productivity at work, influencing factors like performance reviews and ultimately the opportunities you receive in your career. For example, you may be passed over for promotions or raises because of the limitations your pain creates. So what can you do?
If pain is dragging down your quality of life, there are some things you can do. First, try and figure out what’s causing it. This might mean you have to see multiple doctors and specialists get an accurate diagnosis.
There are also lifestyle changes you can make. If it’s difficult to do exercise that maybe you did before, you can still move your body and get the benefits of physical activity, just with modifications. You might walk instead of running or swim rather than lifting weights. Just do what you can, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Take time for self-care, and set small, manageable goals that you can achieve each day and week to boost your self-esteem and help you see things from the perspective of what you can do rather than what you can’t.