The trifecta of chronic pain, stress, and anxiety is impairing health

Treating patients with chronic pain on a daily basis, Hana Doustar, founder and head clinician of the Clinic for Pain and Anxiety, graciously shared her expertise, approach, and advice to living with chronic pain and anxiety, as well as combating stress.

The top three root causes of pain she sees firsthand?  

1 – “Headaches from stress related to work (hours staring at computers)

2 – Injuries from car accidents

3 – Back pain from emotional ailments”

When asked what percentage of people develop anxiety based on pain, she sees, “well above 90%.  With more acute conditions of pain, anxiety levels really vary from person to person, depending on their previous medical history of anxiety levels.”

When you take that statistic and apply it on a global scale, upon taking a look around – most of us are co-existing with chronic pain and anxiety. Attention, acceptance, and tangible approaches to minimizing the impact on our physical, mental and emotional health cannot be more needed by the masses. 

Each of our experiences, levels of pain (refer to the pain scale for a refresher), stressors, support systems, and details of our day-to-day lives vary.  As Doustar underscored, “Every person is very different physically and psychologically. How stress impacts one person’s physical system can be significantly different than how stress can affect” others. 

In her practice, her approach is “to get to know our patients emotionally and physically very well. Once we have conducted a thorough evaluation, we are able to locate areas in the body that are holding on to this stress.”

She noted two common areas she sees in her practice that the human body holds stress:

  • Scalp
  • Digestive tract

Acupuncture is one of the treatment options she employs.  Through acupuncture, which “is a targeted approach to impact the local area where the stress is stored, and to also move it out through the body” Doustar “places needles in local and in ‘mirrored’ areas of the body.”

Taking tension in the scalp as an example, “aside from needling the scalp where we feel tension, we also will needle the feet to draw the tension out. There are also general anxiety points like PC6, located slightly under the wrist that has been known to be effective in calming heart rate.” 

Another treatment option she sees positive results from is Myo-Fascial Release. This involves “gentle pressure on specific muscles to aid the tissue and supportive sheath in releasing tension, and blood stasis to increase mobility.”*

When asked how much tension individuals with chronic pain and anxiety tend to carry around with them, she said, “The level of tension is hard to quantify but the trapezius, scalenes, rhomboids, levator scapulae seem to be highly effected.” In layman’s terms, these are areas supporting the neck and shoulders.

The impact on their daily lives is profound.  Doustar explained that the range can include:

-A hard time getting adequate sleep

-Trouble focusing on anything when dealing with pain

-The inability to exercise, which in turn can lead to more pain as a result of weight gain

-Finding it difficult to keep a social life active when pain levels are high

Chronic pain is an epidemic. The statistics are gasp-worthy. As with many conditions that chronic pain tags along with or is the main player, it is imperative to remind you that you are surrounded by many people in your community that deal and live with pain issues as well. 

How can our communities help and support its citizens dealing with chronic pain?

Not through isolation, but through connecting with others. Connecting with community members, not just on the surface level, but doing our individual best, perhaps stretching past our comfort levels, sharing, opening up, and listening. Being all in – for one another. 

Doustar pointed out that, “The beauty of our time is that there are many support groups one can attend to find community and support when dealing with chronic pain. I would encourage looking into online and also in-person support groups that meet on a regular basis.”

This is so true. Even if you feel alone, I can assure you – there are others that can relate, are struggling and feel the whole scale of emotion and pain (mentally, emotionally, and physically). I encourage you to seek to build a support system tailored to what you need.

Patients of Doustar’s have shared their silver lining “is mindfulness, coming into direct communication with their pain and anxiety.” That turns out to be key for most people, she said.   

In my own experience and those whom I am closely connected to, it has been a repetitive theme that after enduring health challenges and fluctuations in chronic pain, we feel better equipped to handle future challenges and unknowns.

Doustar similarly said, “Anyone who has survived a major injury or found relief of pain has more tools to deal with future challenges. It builds a sort of muscle memory of recovery for them.”

I spoke with a local woman who has lived with chronic pain for 25 years. She said, “In my opinion, the worst thing a person living with chronic pain can do is to isolate themselves.”

“Our mental outlook is very important because it is easy to continue to feel down when you’re experiencing chronic pain,” she said.    

Recognizing it is the first step, right? Taking action is the next step. It’s through our actions that we can find solace, peace through support groups, and solutions to help us manage chronic pain, anxiety, stress, and more.   

Another uplifting and strong message from the woman was, “I think if you’ve had success managing chronic pain, you have helpful advice to offer other people. You find ways and develop ways that work for you and you’re able to share them with others.”

“That doesn’t mean everything will work for someone else, but there may be something that may work for someone else,” she said. “Sharing ideas with others is a silver lining. It’s important to keep learning techniques and refining what can help you.” 

Tools that Doustar recommends for individuals that can be tapped into at home to relieve stress, anxiety and/or chronic pain include:

  • “Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Exercise (even if it’s just stretching as it ‘can be a game changer for stress, anxiety and pain management’)”

Based on Doustar’s clinical experience, when asked what her most significant findings have been that she would like to share with readers, she said, “I’d like readers to know that they are seen. A lot of patients can feel like their anguish is disregarded or unheard and unseen, but we see you.”

“Good practitioners, good friends and family can be of great help and support,” she said. “Reach out to them, give them the opportunity to help. We all need each other.”

Let’s make a pact? Let’s make an effort to connect with other community members in an effort to lessen our burdens of chronic pain and anxiety. 


Coming next:  Flip the “script” – literally, on your prescription