Helpful hints for people with long-term pain.
Pain is a powerful enemy, but don’t let it dominate your life. Here’s a four-step process to help you take back control.
1. Be angry.
Pain is real. It stinks. It isn’t fair. Let yourself grieve. Complain, bitch, cry, get angry, hit the pillow, write it out, scream it out.
Express that pain, do it day after day — but don’t do it forever. Don’t get stuck here. There’ll come a point where enough is enough, where you’re sick of grieving, sick of being angry, and decide it’s time to take control. Don’t give the pain power it shouldn’t have. Move onto #2.
Hint: consider spending 1/2 hour each morning writing in a notebook. Start with the grief. What is it like for you? Write about the suffering. Next, promise yourself you’ll make things better. Write: “I acknowledge your pain, and I promise you a life worth living.”
Make a conscious decision to love your life — despite the pain. This isn’t easy. It can be infuriating, it’s more than you asked for, but the decision to move on and embrace existence can improve your mood and physiologically reduce your pain symptoms. Taking control comes in many forms.
Set goals and pursue them. Think of both small and large projects. When setting up ideas for the future, remember to be realistic, specific, and flexible in your approach.
- Realistic means starting with small steps. Not ready to publish a book? Start with page one.
- Specific entails, well, writing in the details. Can you see the goal? Can you imagine what the outcome looks like?
- Flexibility is about finding different ways to reach the other side of that proverbial wall. You can step around it, dig a hole beneath it, catch a helicopter over it, or (if you have a good imagination) simply make it disappear.
Notice and applaud ways you are in control. Don’t downplay your successes. When you’re in pain, you have to give yourself credit for every little detail: showering, preparing a meal, going for a walk…
Hint: Having problems coming up with projects? Start small. Consider doing a puzzle, write the first two lines of a poem, read one article in a newspaper, visiting an art store, or socializing at the café.
Hint: Ready for something bigger? Take a noncredit class at the community college, volunteer 2 hours/week, or do research on something that interests you.
Keep a pain diary. Suspend disbelief, and give it a try.
Makes pain worse? First, take note of what makes the pain worse. What time of day do you hurt the most? Which activities cause the most pain? How do specific foods, postures, and moods affect you?
What improves pain? Next, take notice of the time of day, activities, and habits that lower pain level. Do stretches help? What about esoteric stuff, like music, aromatherapy, meditation, and the lot? Make a list of different pain management strategies and decide which ones help the most. That might include:
- Medication or applying analgesic cream
- Hot bath or shower
- TENS unit
- Traction machine
- Exercises, walking, or stretching
- Physical Therapy
- Visits to the chiropractor
- Stress reduction strategies & psychotherapy
- Treatment of depression and anxiety
- Other pain management strategies (see below)
Hint: Work closely with your doctor and other providers to identify what works and what doesn’t.
4. Action plan.
Use information as power. Now you know what makes it worse and what makes it better. Use this knowledge as a guideline to structure your days.
Avoid what makes it worse. When approaching unavoidable “pain-provoking” activities, think of ways to reduce pain (like doing stretches, applying analgesic cream ahead of time, or taking a special pillow) and practice coping strategies (for example, distraction, mindfulness, positive thinking). Even if you can’t avoid painful activities, being prepared ahead of time can help you diminish pain.
Do more of what works. There’s the flip side: focus on what helps, those habits and interventions that work, and do them now and do them often. Does an afternoon nap recharge you? How about venting to a psychotherapist once a week? What about exercise, relaxing music, prayer, or spending time with someone you love? Don’t forget to pursue your dreams. Every bit of positivity is a step in the right direction.
Helpful articles to consider: