The Anxiety, Chronic Pain and Illness Connection

Living with chronic pain and illness can bring up a lot of anxiety.  You might be feeling a daily sense of worry, wondering if you will be able to manage your anxiety that increases when health and pain symptoms suddenly strike.

While everyone’s anxiety symptoms and experiences with chronic pain and illness are different,  I hear so many stories about how health symptoms interfere with daily life.  In many cases, symptoms can be so intense that the person has to stop whatever they were doing, so that they can lie down to manage the anxiety and pain best they can.

Pain symptoms can show up anytime, and anywhere which adds to overall stress and anxiety symptoms.

Common Concerns

When circumstances like this happen on a regular basis, common themes and worries emerge.

Fear of the Future

  • Fear of your body because you do not know when health symptoms and pain will strike next
  • Money worries because you are working less and medical bills continue to add up.
  • Concern you will lose your job due to frequent illness episodes at work
  • Anger and resentment towards your body and towards yourself

Some thoughts that may arise include:

“When will my next flare up be?”

“Am I going to be able to work a full day today? Or will I have to work half a day again?”

“Am I going to have trouble with my coworkers who do not really know what I am going through?”

Relationship Worries

“I hope I can go on a date with my partner tonight.  I worry my health symptoms are adding strain to our relationship.”

“Will my partner leave me?”

“Will my friendships survive these constant health flare ups?  I keep flaking out on my friends and worry they will not want to spend time with me anymore.”

Anxiety Negative Effects

All these questions feed into a person’s anxiety experiences because their health and pain symptoms are impacting all areas of their life. This can lead to negative effects in both their personal and professional life.

Ways to Manage Pain, Anxiety and Health Symptoms When They Suddenly Emerge

Focus on the Breath

When noticing an uncomfortable or painful health symptom arise in your body, try focusing on your breath.

In that moment, breathing in and out from the belly can help to promote relaxation in the body and ease areas of tension and pain. To read more about deep belly breathing, please go here.

Talk to Your Body to Reduce Anxiety

As you breathe in and out, you can gently ask yourself, “If this pain had a voice what would it say?”

Paying attention to the response that shows up can be your guide in how to support your mind and body in that moment.

Perhaps that voice is telling you to slow down. Maybe it is saying that your need to lie down with a heating pad.

Whatever the message is, just know that the body does its best to support you and that pain symptoms that arise are its way of communicating with you about what it needs.

That voice might be saying:

“Can we take a break?” or maybe, “I need to lie down for 10 minutes.”

When we give those pain and anxiety symptoms the attention they are seeking, then the body is more at ease and anxiety levels come down.

It is when we ignore and don’t pay attention to the anxiety that symptoms get worse. The anxiety and pain continue and may even increase in severity.

Acknowledging the worries and making adjustments to better support what the mind and body are seeking, is a very powerful tool.

Pay Attention to Your Inner Voice

Are you talking to yourself with kindness and compassion or is the opposite happening?

Anxiety promotes tension in the body and along with that anxiety can often promote negative self talk.

Being hard and critical towards ourselves when anxiety and pain symptoms arise only adds more anxiety and strain on the body.

Saying self-critical statements about ourselves causes the body to tense up and stress levels to rise.

Manage Critical Thoughts Towards Yourself

To break this pattern from continuing try to take a breathe and revise the statement you have said to yourself.

Maybe your initial statement to yourself is:

“Why can’t I figure this out?!  What is wrong with me.  I need to get it together, this is ridiculous.”

The message to yourself can be rephrased as this:

“I am feeling frustrated with myself because this anxiety around health keeps happening.  This makes me angry because the pain is so high, but I know I am doing the best I can right now to manage it.  I will keep working on it and be kinder to myself because I know this approach will help me.”

Get Those Feelings Out

When strong emotions arise, you can always use deep belly breathing as an immediate strategy to take care of yourself.

Other ways to process feelings and worries that seem too intense, is to do some artwork or journaling.

Spending time outdoors for some physical movement is also a helpful approach.

The truth is, is that there is no quick fix or magic pill to manage this cycle of anxiety, pain and negative self talk.  It requires a variety of approaches that need to be used consistently over time, so that new ways of coping become second nature.

Don’t forget about therapy to manage and reduce anxiety!

Working with a counselor is a great way to facilitate the changes you are seeking.  They can work with you in a collaborative way on your goals of managing and addressing the stress, anxiety and health symptoms.

A therapist can guide you on a path where anxiety, pain and worry about your health are no longer interfering with every aspect of life.

If you are feeling stuck and looking for relief from anxiety interfering with your life, then please contact me for a complimentary call. We can work together to get help you find new ways of coping so that anxiety, chronic pain and illness are no longer holding you back.

If you want to learn more about the anxiety, chronic pain and illness connection and how to address it, please check out this podcast interview.

Daniela Paolone

Daniela Paolone is a Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of Westlake Village Counseling serving residents of California and Wyoming. She helps those working through pain, illness, depression and anxiety using a secure online counseling platform ensuring client confidentiality. Using education, helpful resources, unconditional support and understanding, she strives to help people transform their pain into power so they can live their best lives!

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