HNPP · Mental Health · Physical Health

The financial stress of HNPP

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Some days, subjects just fall into my lap. Today is one of those days. We all know that money can cause a boatload of stress, especially during hard times, but how much damage can financial anxiety cause for people with neuropathy?

It is a vicious cycle, you can’t work with chronic pain, but apparently financial insecurity can cause actual physical pain. Basically, we now perceive economic threats in the same way that we used to view predators, and our bodies react accordingly. These processes are also generally controlled by the same mechanisms that regulate pain tolerance, which would explain the link.

This is according to research carried out by Eileen Chou, Bidhan Parmar and Adam Galinsky for the Association of Psychological Science, in which they found that in five studies, economic insecurity produced physical pain and reduced pain tolerance. The researchers surmised that feelings of economic insecurity would lead people to feel a lack of control in their lives, which would, in turn, activate psychological processes associated with anxiety, fear, and stress.

These psychological processes have been shown to share similar neural mechanisms to those underlying pain.

Student participants who were prompted to think about an uncertain job market showed a decrease in pain tolerance, measured by how long they could comfortably keep their hand in a bucket of ice water; students who were prompted to think about entering a stable job market showed no change in pain tolerance.

Disclaimer: Everything written is based on personal and other’s testimonies, available journals and research.

Chou and her fellow researchers argue: “By showing that physical pain has roots in economic insecurity and feelings of lack of control, the current findings offer hope for short-circuiting the downward spiral initiated by economic insecurity and producing a new, positive cycle of well-being and pain-free experience.”

How does this link to HNPP?

Peripheral neuropathy involves the nerves transporting information from the periphery to the central nervous system (spinal cord and brain), in both ways. For better understanding, peripheral nerves tell the brain about the sensation of heat or cold in their zone (each nerve has a corresponding zone) and the brain responds.

While general anxiety and stress have been thrown around as possible issues that lead to neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy is about nerve damage, not nerve symptoms, and since anxiety is unlikely to cause nerve damage, it can’t technically be peripheral neuropathy.

But anxiety can cause symptoms that resemble this type of disorder. Anxiety actually very commonly causes tingling, numbness, burning, or movement issues in various areas of the body, and when it does it can be very scary. Those that self-diagnose often come up with health reasons that cause these symptoms, but they may be caused by anxiety.

There is some evidence that anxiety causes the nerves to fire more, which can also lead to this feeling as though your nerves are always activated and cause “nerve damage-like symptoms” that can be hard to deal with. Anxiety can also cause cramps and other issues that are related to nerves.

The cost of disability

Disability can be a minefield without any extra financial implications, but the truth is people with HNPP often have extra costs to contend with, such as specialist equipment or higher transport costs. The nature of the extra costs of disability vary enormously across different conditions and from individual to individual.

  • Lost work time
  • Medications
  • Equipment
  • Cost of personal care
  • Therapy

So how do you deal with the emotional side of the burden?

David Richards, professor of mental health services research at the University of Exeter, shares some of his top tips for coping with money worries:

  • Stay active – keep seeing your friends, keep moving to the best of your ability
  • Face your fears – for example, if it looks like you’re going into debt, get advice on how to prioritise your debts. When people feel anxious, they sometimes avoid talking to others.
  • Don’t lose your daily routine – get up at your normal time and stick to your routine. If you lose your routine, it can also affect your eating. You may stop cooking, eat snacks instead of having proper meals, or miss breakfast because you’re still in bed.
  • Consider finding an occupational therapist – OTs can create reports on future care costs, as well as provide direct treatment to manage finances more effectively
  • Explore charity and organisational helplines – these are usually free and they can give good financial advice on where to go and who to see. The earlier they know the situation, the better it will be for you in the long run. 

At the end of the day, policymakers should recognise that there may be a link between these two issues: Economic insecurity can drive a downward spiral, both individually and collectively, in which physical pain both arises from and perpetuates weak economic circumstances. Let’s hope they listen.

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