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Anxiety and Diabetic Neuropathy: What Helps?

Anxiety and diabetic neuropathy often occur together. Read this to understand the relationship between nerve pain and anxiety and learn what helps treat them.

Anxiety and diabetic neuropathy have a strong relationship, and it’s not mere coincidence that someone experiencing pain from nerve damage also lives with anxiety. People with diabetic nerve pain have more anxiety than people without such pain. One study found that nearly 27 percent of participants dealing with pain from diabetic neuropathy also had anxiety (Gore et al., 2005). Let’s look at the relationship between diabetic neuropathy and anxiety and what helps both pain and anxiety.

The Relationship Between Anxiety and Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy causes anxiety, and pain levels impact anxiety levels. When pain is mild, anxiety is likewise mild. Severe pain typically causes severe anxiety. Anxiety, in turn, exacerbates nerve pain. While anxiety can’t cause neuropathy, it does make the experience of pain much worse.

When someone is living with diabetes, pain from nerve damage, and resulting anxiety, their quality of life diminishes. Mobility often becomes difficult, which restricts activity. Sometimes, people are forced to stop working and engaging in other physical activities. Sleep problems frequently accompany neuropathy and anxiety, as both make rest elusive. Neuropathy goes beyond nerve pain to cause many problems that decrease overall enjoyment of life.

As the quality of life declines, fear grows. People begin to have anxious thoughts about worsening pain, high blood sugar, injury, and negative judgment by others, any of which can cause avoidance of many activities. Avoidance sometimes leads to inactivity, disability, and isolation. Experiencing diabetic neuropathy, anxiety, and fear can be devastating.

Because of the potential damage caused by these medical and mental health conditions, researchers are trying to determine why there is such a strong correlation between anxiety and pain caused by nerve damage in diabetes. Convinced that there are additional factors at work, researchers have been studying the connection. A Harvard Mental Health Letter published in 2010 reports that reasons for the strong connection between anxiety and diabetic pain lie in the brain.

  • The part of the brain known as the somatosensory cortex interprets touch and other sensations. It interacts with the amygdala, anterior cingulate gyrus, and hypothalamus, areas that are at work in anxiety, stress, emotional experiences, physical and mental pain.
  • The neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine are involved in both pain and anxiety.

The crossover in the brain of the mechanisms behind nerve pain and anxiety helps explain the relationship between them. It also shows that experiencing fear and anxiety alongside neuropathy is normal and a function of how the brain and body work. People with diabetic nerve damage who also live with anxiety and fear aren’t creating problems.

These conditions are very difficult to live with on their own, and when combined, quality of life often plummets. Treating both anxiety and diabetic neuropathy is essential to maintain physical and mental health ("What Treatment for Diabetic Nerve Pain Is Available? ").

Treatment That Helps Anxiety and Neuropathy

An important treatment component is pain management for diabetic neuropathy. As pain improves, anxiety also improves. Pain isn’t the only thing to be treated, however. Treating the whole person helps diabetic neuropathy and anxiety. Interventions that target pain, specific anxieties and fears, and sleep problems will improve quality of life and functioning.

Some helpful treatment approaches include

  • Medication
  • Education to learn coping skills for living with pain and anxiety
  • Psychotherapy (mental health therapy with a counselor or therapist); cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has been shown to improve the perception of pain as well as anxiety
  • Exercise/regular physical activity
  • Relaxation techniques (mindfulness, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation)
  • Hypnosis with a therapist

When nerve pain is severe, anxiety tends to be severe as well. Likewise, when one is mild, so is the other. The techniques listed can help improve someone’s experience with anxiety and neuropathy by reducing their intensity.

Understanding your own nerve damage and pain as well as your specific worries and fears will help you, your doctor, and your therapist tailor interventions to your unique needs. A variety of approaches allows you to discover what treatment helps the most to minimize anxiety and diabetic neuropathy.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, January 8). Anxiety and Diabetic Neuropathy: What Helps?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, May 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/diabetes/complications/anxiety-and-diabetic-neuropathy-what-helps

Last Updated: 2019, May 9

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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