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How Do I Manage Chronic Pain In the Wake of Coronavirus?

This excerpt is taken from an episode of the "Tell Me About Your Pain" podcast. You can listen to the full episode below, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.


Chronic pain sufferers share their struggles with navigating Coronavirus anxiety. Kristin grapples with feelings of uncertainty, while Bethany has a difficult time cultivating a sense of safety during the global pandemic of Covid-19. Co-hosts Alan Gordon, LCSW (Founder of the Pain Psychology Center) and Alon Ziv help Kristin and Bethany calm their fears, and discuss how these anxieties connect back to the latest research on pain.

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Kristin: What’s so scary and weird about the coronavirus and the anxiety around it is that I feel like this future is so blurry. With pretty much everything normally you kind of know it’s going to pass. Even though it's hard at the time, the future is pretty clear. But now it’s hard for me to say, “okay you’ll get through this, you got through this before.” Because now I wonder will we get through this? What’s on the other side?. So I think it's hard for me to deal with this pain in that lens, because I just don’t know what’s on the other side.

Alan: So you feel like with the coronavirus in particular vs. some other things, there’s so much true uncertainty. Sometimes when there’s a level of uncertainty, like when you’re applying for a job or trying to get your kid into a school, you can kind of tell yourself “oh, it’s going to be okay either way and this is going to pass.” But with this, it’s really hard to say that and be authentic.

Kristin: Exactly. I don’t know what it looks like on the other side, and I don’t know if it’s going to pass, and I don’t know if by July we’ll be running around the pool or doing the normal things that we do. And it’s really scary to me.

Alon: I think a lot of us can relate to what Kristin was talking about. There’s actually a cool study about uncertainty where these scientists had people play a video game. And sometimes during the video game, the participants got electric shocks. And sometimes they knew they were going to get shocked. They were measuring the volunteers’ stress level while they were playing this game and getting these shocks. The cool thing is sometimes they knew they were going to get a shock and their stress levels went up. Because getting shocked is stressful. But other times they didn’t know if they were going to get a shock or not, it was a like a 50/50 chance, and their stress levels were even higher in that case. Just because they didn’t know whether it was going to come. Weirdly not knowing if it was going to come was even more stressful than knowing it was going to come. Something bad maybe happening is actually worse, more stressful, than knowing what’s going to come.

Alan: And the reason why uncertainty can have such a big impact on your pain is because pain is a danger signal. It’s your brain’s way of warning you. So when you’re overwhelmed with uncertainty, you don’t know what’s coming, you don’t know what’s around the corner. And that makes your brain feel unsafe. So if your brain is flooded with danger then naturally it’s going to amplify other danger signals, like pain. Deep down what all of us really need is just to feel safe above everything else.

[this is an excerpt only - for the full episode, listen to the podcast above]

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