Woman shopping for produceWhen most people carry in groceries, they apply a certain strategy to it. Carry the heavy stuff first, then finish with the light stuff. Once everything’s inside, you’re done for a couple weeks until you have to shop again. High-five!

Carrying in groceries is similar to acute pain caused by injury or disease that heals over a short period of time. Chronic pain is different. It looks like carrying in groceries every day without much of an option to choose a lighter load over a heavy one. You don’t even get the satisfaction of fresh food after exerting so much energy. Instead, you feel constantly drained with no reward.

Even worse, no one can see the bags you’re carrying. They’re invisible weights stuck to you—the reason you need an accessible parking spot. (Despite judgy glances of pain-free people around you.)

Just because your struggle isn’t visible does not mean you deserve no accommodations or help. Living with constant pain, dealing with others’ judgment, and feeling like you’re missing out on life can cause anxiety symptoms to spike. The added stress can irritate physical pain, and the cycle continues.

Let’s talk about anxiety, chronic pain, and how to cope with it.

Signs of anxiety relating to chronic pain

  • Feeling constantly on edge about your condition
  • Trouble sleeping due to racing thoughts
  • Physical health-related nightmares
  • Panic attacks from thoughts of prognosis
  • Hesitancy discussing your condition
  • Discounting treatment options that worsen anxiety
  • Cutting back social interactions
  • Intrusive thoughts of death

Challenging negative thinking

Person walking with head downThere’s no denying it—chronic pain sucks. It triggers negative thinking patterns which trains your brain to exclusively focus on negative things around you. The next time you catch yourself spiraling into negativity, pause and notice your thinking without judgment.

You may find yourself catastrophizing about a situation over which you already have a fair amount of control. Challenge those thoughts by asking yourself, “What positives in my life am I discounting right now?”

Practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present instead of ruminating on the past or future. One clinical trial found that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) reduced pain intensity in chronically ill patients as well as pain-related distress.

Practicing mindfulness even when pain isn’t debilitating can help regulate overall anxiety levels. Try these exercises…

Three steps, three breaths

  • Go on a slow walk.
  • Breathe in for three steps, breathe out for three steps.
  • Notice the sensation of your feet in your shoes, your shoes on the ground, and the breeze on your face.
  • Tune into the sounds around you. What do you hear?
  • Slowly feel yourself attuning to the present moment.

Woman sitting on log meditatingLeaves on a stream

  • Get into a comfortable seated position.
  • Softly close your eyes.
  • Notice the feeling of your breath in your nostrils, expanding your belly as you breathe deeply.
  • Exhale any tension with a slow sigh.
  • Imagine you are sitting beside a stream. Take your time painting the full picture. (If you live near a stream, practice there!)
  • Notice as leaves fall into the stream and float by.
  • As thoughts naturally pop into your head—whether images, words, or sounds—gently place them on each leaf.
  • Let the leaves flow past you down the stream, away from consciousness.
  • Do this for every thought, no matter positive or negative, until your head becomes quiet.
  • (Yes, even the thoughts that say, “This is stupid.” Place them on the leaf.)
  • If a thought gets stuck, let it swirl around for a moment on the leaf, then let it pass.

Remember, one in five U.S. adults deals with chronic pain, so you’re not alone. Talk to people who get it, and consider working with a therapist to make mindfulness and anxiety reduction a part of your daily life. Learn more about treatment for anxiety here. I’m here to help when you’re ready to ask for it. Reach out to me today to set up an initial consultation.