The Art of Managing Somatic Symptom Disorder

We all experience physical pain from time to time, and with proper treatment and care, the pain usually subsides, and our wounds heal. We can go back to living our lives as we did before our injury. 

But for millions of people, pain symptoms can persist for months or even years. Living with chronic pain can make it difficult to function and can take a toll on mental health. There are documented links between chronic pain and depression, and many people with persistent pain have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.

What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?

When we’re not feeling well, it’s normal to wonder what is wrong and seek out treatment. However, when we obsess about our injuries or ailments and allow those thoughts to dominate our focus, we may be living with a mental illness called somatic symptom disorder. Somatic Symptom Disorder is a mental health condition in which an individual is preoccupied with their physical health and pain symptoms. The key here is that this preoccupation is out of proportion to the symptoms and so severe that it can cause distress and disrupt a person’s ability to function.  

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Often, people with somatic symptom disorder experience anxiety around their health and wellbeing and spend an abundant amount of time thinking about, talking about, and worrying about their symptoms. According to the American Psychiatric Association, people living with somatic symptom disorder “may continue to be fearful and worried even when they are shown evidence that they do not have a serious condition.”

How is Somatic Symptom Disorder Managed?

The medical community does not know the exact cause of somatic symptom disorder, but psychological, social, and cultural factors can impact somatic symptoms. Genetics may also play a role, for instance, if someone has increased sensitivity to pain. For all of these reasons, somatic symptom disorder treatment varies from person to person. 

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In general, treating somatic symptom disorder typically involves psychotherapy or talk therapy. More specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy can help people explore their beliefs about their health on a deeper level and adopt techniques to reduce stress, cope with physical pain, and address feelings of depression or anxiety. Together with the help of a therapist, many people with somatic symptom disorder can begin to reduce their maladaptive thoughts, gradually rejoin activities that were previously uncomfortable, and improve daily functioning. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help manage symptoms. 

Are There Home Remedies For Someone With Somatic Symptom Disorder?

The Mayo Clinic suggests that in addition to seeking counseling, people with somatic symptom disorder can take steps on their own to help cope with and reduce their symptoms. 

  • Relax. Practicing stress management techniques including meditation, intentional breathing, and muscle relaxation can help alleviate symptoms. 
  • Get Moving. In addition to being good for your body, physical exercise is shown to improve your mood. Consider incorporating 30 minutes of light walking to start and gradually add more intense movements or weights to your routine.  
  • Be Social. When you’re feeling unwell, it’s normal to want to isolate yourself from friends and family. But the truth is, surrounding yourself with those who bring you joy can go a long way to improving how you feel. 
  • Avoid Alcohol And Drugs. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to mask their pain, and studies indicate a link between somatic disorders and alcohol abuse. If you are living with somatic symptom disorder, talk with your doctor about your coping strategies, which could impact your overall recovery.
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How Can I Help Someone With Somatic Symptom Disorder?

It can be distressing when someone you care about is in pain for long periods of time, and there seems to be no viable end in sight. If you or a loved one may be living with somatic symptom disorder, remember that it is okay to ask for help. With the support of friends, family, and respectable mental health providers, you can emerge from your pain and live the life you deserve.

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