How pain affects your life can be different depending on your individual circumstances, but one thing is certain: chronic pain goes beyond just the physical to impact mental and emotional health and all the relationships around you. Here are just some of the way in which pain affects your life and how you can help yourself.

How pain affects your life: mental and emotional health

Chronic pain is strongly linked to a greatly increased risk of major mental conditions including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. A body in chronic pain continually sends stress signals to the brain, leading to a heightened perception of not only the pain itself but also the perceived level of threat.

This translates into some startling statistics. In fibromyalgia patients, over 62% will experience depression, and 56% have increased anxiety (as compared to 7% and 18%, respectively, in the general population of the U.S.).

Chronic pain actually changes the way the brain processes emotion and the pain itself. Patients with chronic pain are more likely to experience depression because the pain acts on the sense-data areas of the brain that regulate not only emotion but also sleep. When sleep becomes unsatisfying (too long, too short, poor quality, etc.), feelings of depression, anxiety, and pain become more intense. The brain also begins to anticipate pain, leading to anxiety and a hypervigilance that is normally associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Just as chronic pain can lead to depression, depression itself can lead to chronic pain. This is a vicious cycle that can be very difficult to break.

How you can help yourself

First of all, it’s important to recognize the facts about mental health, including the very important understanding that depression doesn’t just go away. Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are real, treatable conditions that should not be ignored.

As a chronic pain patient experiencing depression or anxiety, it is important to reach out and find support, either in your local community or through an online forum.

There are also many highly effective therapies to seek out, and there are things you can start right now, at home, to improve your outlook. Get outside in nature, meditate, and connect with friends to get a quick mood boost.

You are not alone in your struggle. If you are feeling depression or anxiety, reach out and get help.

How pain affects your life: time, energy, and attention (TEA)

For those without chronic pain, there are a good many things taken for granted. Tying shoelaces, making breakfast, walking the dog, balancing the checkbook: there is a seemingly endless supply of time, energy, and attention (TEA) for these tasks.

With chronic pain, however, time, energy, and attention are often in limited supply. This means that decisions must be made and priorities set daily depending on the level of pain. This is often described using spoon theory. “Spoonies” are people with chronic pain who have a limited amount of TEA for daily tasks, represented by a number of spoons. Getting dressed in the morning might take up two of that day’s ten spoons, making the rest of the day instantly problematic.

How you can help yourself

Using spoon theory to explain to friends and family what it’s like to live with chronic pain can help them be more understanding of the daily struggles you face with the simplest of tasks. This can immediately help to set your mind at ease because you know they will understand better when it takes 30 minutes to button your shirt in the morning.

Evaluating your daily spoons every morning can also be a powerful tool for you to plan and prioritize your day. There may be a