Living with chronic pain isn’t easy. Doctors say, “work on those coping skills,” but they don’t know what real pain’s like. The irony is that coping skills do reduce pain. They aren’t just about distraction or minimizing angst — they physiologically block pain receptors and improve a person’s quality of life. So, with the understanding that life with chronic pain isn’t easy, here are some tips that might help reduce your suffering.
Try to avoid negativity. Spend a day or two paying attention to your thoughts. Are you thinking scary, angry, upsetting, or depressed thoughts? If a thought has a negative effect on your well-being, ask yourself whether it’s a good idea to continue thinking it. Find ways to replace these negative thoughts with more realistic, helpful thoughts. For example, instead of thinking “I’ll never be able to go hiking again because of this pain, I’ll never get any exercise,” consider “I might not be able to go hiking right now, but I can swim all I want, and that’s good exercise.” If using your mind to improve your outlook sounds interesting, look into cognitive therapy.
Say yes to positivity. Studies show positive emotion decreases pain levels. With practice, you can find small sources of joy around you, bringing meaning and satisfaction to your life. Look for these small things! Where are they? What are they? Pay attention to your grandchild’s giggle, the way a butterfly flitters across the lawn, or the sweet scent of chamomile tea. Also note thoughts that help you feel better, and work at enhancing this part of yourself. Can’t think of anything? How about, “scientists are always coming out with new treatment for people with chronic pain” or “I have an amazing future ahead of me.” Many find that thinking positively about the future actually creates a positive future.
Write those words. Words are powerful. No matter what goes through your head, writing your feelings and thoughts down gives you a chance to be honest about the pain. Get it out, and get it on paper. You can also use the journal to problem-solve or rewrite the negative into the positive.
Distract yourself. Believe it or not, distraction helps pain. Consider watching a funny TV program, talking to someone about something other than pain, making cards, knitting, doing a puzzle, or playing music so loud you can feel the vibrations. Sometimes distraction means fun check out this list of 150+ fun things to do.
Be mindful. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts, feelings, and sensations from a distance, without judging them. Examples of mindfulness include stopping to listen to the sounds you hear in your environment, or running your hands under cold water and focusing on nothing else.
Meditate. Meditation involves giving yourself permission to put all thoughts and feelings and worries aside, and refocusing your energy on relaxing your mind. Every time a thought comes up, acknowledge it and then let it go. Meditation can ease muscle tension, fight fatigue, reduce stress, help with anxiety and depression, and help relieve pain symptoms. Often deep breathing is helpful for meditation. It involves relaxing the body by focusing on the breath, breathing in and out slowly & deeply while allowing your mind to forget all its worries.
Relax those muscles. Muscle relaxation exercises relieve stress as well as reduce pain by lowering muscle tension. They involve sitting up or lying on your back and systematically relaxing each part of your body.
Use creative imagery. Imagery involves using mental images to increase well-being. This in turn increases endorphins and other chemicals in the body that help diminish pain and alleviate mood problems and stress. Relax back in a comfortable chair or lie down, close your eyes, and imagine a pleasant/happy scene or positive memory. Stay there and feel the warm feeling that comes with it. If guided imagery attracts you, check out the visitor with an answer.
Please don’t let pain dominate your life. Choose to live despite that black hole in your life, and remember to soar.