The Pain Mood Connection, Part 2: How to Blossom Again

February 21, 2019
written by:Claire Brandon, M.D.

Pain and mood are incredibly interconnected.

In part 1 of the pain-mood connection, we discussed a few factors including connected brain pathways that result in pain from physical and mental conditions. Additionally, these pathways appear to light up even more in patients with mental health conditions, like depression, making pain tolerance all the worse. We also briefly looked at inflammation, a difficult-to-appreciate factor of chronic illness that can over time, bring damage to your body and immune system.

Today, what steps are there to take to help with both the physical and mental aspects of pain and mood. 

Pain And Mood: Simple habits to integrate into your life:

Consider seeing a psychiatrist. 

Seeking psychiatric evaluation if you are dealing with mood disorders, seems pretty straight forward. But if you have chronic pain, and are unsure if your mood symptoms are interfering, finding a consult liaison psychiatrist (formerly psychosomatic medicine) can really help to better understand this connection and determine if you might be helped with therapy and or medications.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR, has been studied in insomnia and was developed in the 1920s to assist patients who suffered from various illnesses. It was developed by Edmund Jacobson who felt there was a common overlap in patients with chronic illness that they all had muscle tension and pain, worsening whatever else they were dealing with. Utilizing PMR can help create a feedback loop to your brain that you are in a relaxed state, control your anxiety and stress, and decrease tension that worsens pain. It can also help you better understand what it feels like to be in a relaxed state so that you can better intervene when you are stressed. 

Meditation. 

There is a lot out in pop culture about meditation today, including specific meditation studios in big cities. But, meditation has been around for thousands of years, and has been show to help calm both pain and mood symptoms. There are tons of free apps for meditation, so it can be cost effective as well. 

4-7-8 breathing. 

My patients must by now think I’m a broken record, because one of my favorite techniques for stress, anxiety, and tolerating pain is a breathing exercise. In using 4-7-8 breathing, you are inhaling a deep breath into your belly to a count of 4, holding your breath for a count of 7 and exhaling as deeply as you can to a count of 8. It takes some getting used to, and if you have any lung issues, this may not be for you. Again, it can feedback to your brain that you have taken control of your “fight of flight” response and you can regain focus or push through whatever stressful event is going on.

Positive psychology. 

A quick intervention I like to talk about is the idea of identifying “3 good things” everyday. They don’t have to be profound. It could be that your train came on time or that you enjoyed your coffee this morning. It could be that you got a promotion or that you got outside for 5 minutes of sunshine. Keep up listing these good things to remind your brain that even in the setting of struggling with mental health or physical illness, including pain, there are good things to keep looking out for. 

As always, speak with your doctor before undergoing interventions, but I hope these can be helpful ideas to integrate into your life, no matter what you’re going through. 

**This blog is not to be treated as medical advice, please discuss with your physician if you have any concerns.**

Claire Brandon, M.D.

Dr. Brandon is a dual board-certified psychiatrist in both adult psychiatry and consultation-liaison psychiatry (treatment of psychiatric illness in medically ill adults). She completed her residency and fellowship training at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and did a second fellowship in public psychiatry at New York University in New York City

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