Is it More Than Stress?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. Are there key signs in a persons behavior or thought process that would help determine if their issue is something more than stress? This is the issue: I have a lot of stressful things going on in my life right now, the biggest being a painful physical condition left over from an injury 5 years ago. I do understand that chronic pain almost always breeds depression, but like to think that I have kept this minimized, with the exception of one or two weekly pity parties that I allow myself as an outlet for my frustrations. Otherwise, meditation, breathing exercises, visualization and yoga keep the pain and emotional aspects as under control as I believe medications would. But I’m worried something else might be going on now.

Being unable to work and unable to get out much, I am bored out of my mind. This might also add to the problem I’m having. The problem being, I can’t seem to turn off my brain these days. I wake up thinking about something and it just runs all day if I let it. There is nothing disturbing about my thoughts…they just don’t stop. I watch TV, read a book, or do internet searches about random subjects just to give my brain something to focus on to calm it down. It seems like the strangest thing to me sometimes. Reading some of the information on your website, I thought that OCD sounded a bit familiar, but I don’t do any of the other behaviors…just the constant thinking. I’m seriously stressed about my future with this pain issue, bored with my limited life and have a serious case of cabin fever…but can these things alone make your brain run like this? Or is there something wrong with me. Can these conditions disturb a persons mental state? Or, do I just suffer from chronic boredom that my brain is trying to battle with it’s own entertainment?

A. It is difficult to say whether or not you are suffering from depression, OCD or from “cabin fever”. You did not mention if you had a history of depression or OCD. If you had I may be inclined to say that your current issues may be related to these two disorders. Since, however, there was no mention of this I am assuming that you have no history of either of these two disorders. Also, you did not mention any other symptoms of depression or OCD, with the exception of rumination.

Without many other symptoms of depression and OCD it would seem that you may be suffering from “cabin fever” or boredom. You’re probably not used to having so much free time. I know many people who complain of the very same problems that you mention, when they are sick; having to lie in bed suffering and feeling miserable. Many people in these situations, even after a few days, are bored “out of their minds”, feel irritated and cannot wait to return to their “normal” lives.

I cannot say with any certainly that you are not suffering with any of the disorders you mentioned. As you said, depression is not uncommon among those dealing with pain issues. It is advisable to see a doctor who can meet with you in person to determine if you indeed have either depression or OCD. My sense of your situation is you are at home, not working, are in pain and after a while, this temporary way of life has gotten “old.”

I have worked with clients who were in a similar situation with regard to not being able to work due to an accident or illness. Like you, they often found themselves having to spend the majority of time at home, not working. At first, they admitted they liked the idea of not having to work and getting to stay home. Over time, however, they started to feel not only bored but would become angry at themselves for not being able to do more. Some people remarked that they felt useless or unproductive having to be home. They felt this way even though they were forced into their situation because of something out of their control and there was little else they could do. It was helpful to remind them of the truth of their situation. That is, the reality was that for the time being, until they recovered and it was time to return to work, they had to make the best of their situation. This was their temporary reality.

As I mentioned before, you should consider seeing a doctor to verify if you are suffering from OCD or depression. Also, it may be helpful if you had a therapist or at least a friend to talk to about all of the things you are constantly thinking about. You could also try joining an online pain discussion group.

Another idea may be to try journaling. Studies have shown that people who journal feel better psychologically. Journaling also gives you a written record of your thoughts. This could be helpful in determining whether you have OCD or depression-like trends or patterns in your thinking. I hope you feel better soon. Thanks for writing.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Mar 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Is it More Than Stress?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/03/16/is-it-more-than-stress/