When we’re dealing with chronic pain, and learning how to manage it, it can feel overwhelming and cause us to withdraw and isolate ourselves from the world. We may stop going out with friends, make excuses not to visit family, and even possibly end up quitting our jobs.

However, recent studies suggest that caving to these initial desire to stop being social, can actually make it worse… Here’s what you need to know!

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for more than 12 weeks. Though most of the time it lasts years, or even a lifetime.

The reason why acute pain is medically distinguished from chronic pain is because chronic pain brings with it several complications that acute pain doesn’t. Chronic pain becomes a condition in itself, causing other symptoms and issues, not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. We can begin having issues with concentration and memory, become depressed, anxious and generally suffer from mood alterations.   

A Meaningful Social Connection

Unlike many believe, having a social connection is not just about going out and being in the same room with people. As most of us know, we could be surrounded by several people, and yet feel completely alone.

Social connections don’t require anyone to have a large group of friends, or even go out and make elaborate plans. A meaningful social connection can occur even if it’s just you and your best friend having a chat about life and family, going out for coffee, or visiting your parents for the weekend.

The important part of that social interaction is not what you’re doing or how many people are around. The main part is how connected you feel to the person, or people, you’re interacting with, that the conversation and feelings shared are genuine and free of unrealistic expectations or emotional exhaustion.

I know perfectly well that sometimes we wish we could have a connection with a particular person or group of people; however, it’s something that can’t be faked, it needs to be natural and we need to let it happen. Believe it or not, most of the time we’re the ones getting in the way of connecting with others.

A part of something…

When we connect, we feel like we’re a part of something, of a group, a relationship, a family, and we feel closeness and safety. This closeness is a core psychological and emotional need that every human has at every age. However, as children we are particularly sensitive to it, since having or lacking these connections affect our development in emotional, intellectual and physical ways that we can’t even begin to imagine.

And social connections don’t have to be exclusive to those who are in our own age group! When we make a meaningful connection with someone who’s older or younger, it’s beneficial for both. Relationships with adults matter a lot in the lives of children and teens, even if sometimes they wish they had no adults around. Having a mentor figure or a trusted friend can reduce drug use, depression and anxiety, and improve self esteem.

The opposite is also true. When an adult has a connection with a younger person, even a child, physical and emotional issues begin to decrease. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, came to the conclusion that older adults who had spent time cultivating their relationship with their children, grand children or the younger generations in general, and contributing to their development and well-being, were significantly happier than those who hadn’t.  

How can a Social Connection Help You Manage Chronic Pain?

I recently came across an NIH-supported study that was published in the Journal of Pain Management.

The study addresses the fact that neural pathways connect the social experience with the physical pain experience, which is why social discomfort, loneliness and lack of connection causes or worsens physical pain, while healthy relationships and deep connections improve our well-being and have been shown to reduce pain and anxiety.

There is an inevitable, amazing crossover between social pain and chronic, physical pain; and though often, when we’re experiencing chronic pain, our first inclination is towards not being social and we start actually withdrawing from the world, this study shows that that’s actually the last thing that we want to do…

The importance of having strong, positive, social experiences with others is underrated. Connection is a powerful tool that helps us experience and manage our pain in a way that’s a lot healthier and less distressing.

This study also suggests that social factors make people more vulnerable to suffering from chronic pain; factors such as trauma, isolation or prolonged social conflict usually make it more likely for people to suffer from pain conditions.

What to do?

Take a look at your life right now. If you find yourself isolated from the world and have issues with chronic pain, then I would suggest that yo get out there! Reconnect with friends or family, try something new, make sure that you’re not getting stuck in that cycle of wanting to withdraw, because withdrawing will exacerbate your pain, or already has.

That’s what the neuroscientists in this NIH study saw: when we do withdraw, it actually increases our pain and we lose the resilience to be able to manage it emotionally and mentally.

When Social Anxiety is Involved

If you experience social anxiety, and a lot of people do, this effort to get out there becomes even more challenging. I understand that completely. It’s a terrible combination…

For anxiety, some of the most effective, side effect-free management methods I know are meditation, the practice of complete awareness, and CBD, the non-psychoactive component in cannabis plants.

Medication for anxiety, like Ativan, can probably reduce anxiety and put you to sleep, but the anxiety could get worse once the effects wear off, which generally results in dependence and even higher risk of overdose.

When it comes to isolation and anxiety, the long way is usually better than the shortcut. CBD is not a sedative, but it helps your brain relax and get in the mental state where meditation is possible, and the constant practice of meditation can train your mind and reduce anxiety to a point where you are able to go out and connect.

You then create a beneficial cycle where anxiety, isolation and pain are reduced, mood improves, and energy gets higher. It’s an overall improvement that only results from a holistic, natural approach to our health and well-being.

If you have any questions, ideas, or want to share an experience, please feel free to comment!