How to Decrease Anxiety When You Have Chronic Pain

By Marisa Cohen
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D. , Alexis Ogdie, M.D.
April 21, 2023

If you experience chronic pain, anxiety may be an all-too-familiar feeling. Some researchers believe that there’s a connection in the brain between the experience of pain and anxiety, and that each feeds the other.

“Anxiety serves a purpose—it’s a signal telling us that something's not right,” says Katie Willard Virant, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist who treats people with chronic illness in St. Louis. “But when you have chronic pain, it can be like a fire alarm that's gone wonky, going off when it doesn't necessarily need to. There's a sense that every time we feel something, we want to pay attention to it.”

“It’s anxiety-inducing to always be in pain,” agrees Elana Miller, M.D., an integrative psychiatrist in Los Angeles. “There’s also the stress of uncertainty in not knowing when you wake up if it will be a good day or a bad day for your pain.”