Chronic Pain & Illness

What is chronic pain?

Chronic disease distress often resembles anxiety and/or depression, but is more specific to the circumstances of the pain or illness. It is a normal and common reaction to pain and illness that can begin before or after a formal chronic illness diagnosis is made, or after the onset of chronic illness. Chronic disease distress is common with autoimmune diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, injury from car accidents, and many other illnesses and causes of pain.

Approximately 50% of people with a chronic illness or chronic pain experience chronic disease distress. It is slightly more common in women than men but can affect anyone. If you have experienced stressful events in your life either before or after your diagnosis, or if you have a personal or family history of anxiety, depression, or trauma, you may be at greater risk for chronic disease distress.

Common symptoms of chronic disease distress include:

  • Feelings of grief, anger, denial and/or sadness
  • Constant thoughts about your illness or pain
  • Feelings of depression and hopelessness
  • Worry thoughts about your or illness or pain
  • Difficulty concentrating, as not associated with the illness itself
  • Difficulty sleeping, as not associated with the illness itself
  • Experiential avoidance of activities that bring your pleasure and/or trigger anxiety

If you are experiencing these symptoms, be assured that chronic disease distress is treatable.

Chronic disease distress can be treated with medication if anxiety or depression is overwhelming. Counselling is important to improving well-being and quality of life in people with chronic pain and illness, and in many cases and decreasing physical pain.

Counselling at Westwood includes the use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a type of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for chronic disease distress. ACT has a large evidence base for treating chronic pain and illness, and we focus on:

  • Contacting the present moment, so that our entire focus is not on our illness/pain.
  • Creating distance between ourselves and our illness/pain thoughts.
  • Accepting our physical sensations and emotions as real yet passing experiences.
  • Connecting with our values, as we often ignore them when we feel distressed.
  • Engaging in pleasurable activities that align with our ability levels.
  • Noticing what we are doing, thinking, and feeling at any given moment.