Anxiety and chronic pain

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anxious teen girl outside class

Anxiety is an unpleasant state of feeling nervous, worried, fearful or uneasy about something that has not yet happened. It can also cause physical symptoms such as a faster heartbeat, lack of appetite or sweaty palms.

Everyone feels anxious at certain times in their life. For example, you might feel anxiety about an upcoming exam or job interview. These anxieties are normal. Anxiety becomes a concern if it lasts for a period of time (usually at least a month) and starts to interfere with your daily function and enjoyment of life.

Chronic pain and anxiety

The experience of chronic pain can lead to anxious thoughts such as: “Will my pain ever go away?”, “How will I catch up with all the school or work that I missed?” or “Will other people treat me differently because of my pain?”.

When we become anxious, our brains and bodies go into “alarm mode” – we experience shortness of breath and muscle tension, and often have the urge to escape the situation. All of these factors can actually make pain worse.

Common signs and symptoms of anxiety

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling of nervousness
  • Avoiding situations that make you anxious (for example social situations or specific activities)
  • Being pre-occupied by negative thoughts

​Sources

Jovanovic, M., & Monga, S. (2016) Anxiety: Overview​. AboutKidsHealth.ca [Accessed April 25, 2016]​

Last updated: May 2nd 2016