Many people have asked me how I manage my pain and work long hours. It’s not easy, it takes a lot of forethought, support and flexibility. If you work and suffer from chronic pain, you know how challenging life can be. It’s hard enough just working and keeping up with all of life’s other demands, but add to that a painful condition, and a job becomes even more stressful. Surveys have found that about half of chronic pain patients who remain in the workplace engage in “presenteeism” – they are present at work, but their chronic pain sometimes or often prevents them from performing their job. That’s why it’s so important to establish ways to get through those tough days.
Start your day off right: Don’t let the day start off frenzied. Planning is key. The night before I set out all my clothes and accessories. I make sure my briefcase, papers and purse are ready to go. If I’m overwhelmed I always have a few minutes to talk myself down, take a few breaths and move on. Nothing starts the day off worse than when I feel frenzied and exhausted from the get-go.
Get some sleep: We’ve talked in multiple posts how sleeping an average of 7-9 hours every night matters to health. To those of us suffering from chronic pain it’s even more imperative. Waking up as refreshed as possible will make the day easier to navigate. Hot baths, ice or hot packs, over-the-counter preps like valerian root and melatonin occasionally might help, but if it’s a persistent issue talk to your healthcare provider.
Stretch or walk: There’s no better way to get the muscles moving and mobilized than starting with a gentle exercise routine every morning. I found trying to do too much, like my elliptical, actually caused pain and fatigue later in the day. But a stretching regimen like I show, in my Tuesday posts, gets the blood circulating, warms up my joints and muscles and starts the day right. Without it, I never get past the tight and sore muscles I have after a long night struggling to sleep.
Advocate for yourself: Don’t feel as though you have to manage pain in silence. See if there are any accommodations that could be made to help minimize pain and maximize productivity. Talk with your boss and co-workers so they can understand and possibly assist in your pain management practices, such as taking a few extra minutes to sit each hour or have someone else do the heavy lifting. In some cases jobs that start the workday later to allow for additional sleep may be the answer.
Set priorities: Be aware of your limitations and health issues, and don’t push yourself in ways that will cause a setback. Say no when you need to. Delegate when possible.In other words, budget your time into quality energy expenditures, not wasteful ones. For me, that means allocating time everyday to perform simple chores so they don’t build up and overwhelm me, such as watering plants and doing the laundry.
Take breaks: Use regular breaks as a way to bring your pain management practices into the workplace. If getting up and stretching helps your chronic pain, do it. Look into whether a movable desk is an option to let you stand and sit throughout the day. Take a few minutes to meditate in a quiet place or squeeze in a short walk during lunch to gain the benefits of additional exercise, getting outdoors and away from the office for a few minutes.
Adapt healthy habits: On or off the job, don’t let work be an excuse for not eating healthy or exercising. See if your company offers a gym or other possible options. Bring healthy lunches and snacks. Work out a schedule for the day or week that incorporates hours on the job, cooking, exercising, travel time, and kids’ activities, so it’s all planned and in the mix. I always feel better and less stressed when it’s arranged ahead of time and not done on the fly.
Tweak your workplace: Examine your work area for ways to minimize pain and make you more comfortable. Using ergonomics – the use of specially designed equipment to ease or prevent pain or other health problems- like special office chairs, hand rests, foot rests, keyboard trays, and telephone headsets can be tremendously helpful. Many employers will provide them if they understand the benefits. I use a shelf that elevates my keyboard to a more comfortable position and a chair cushion behind my back.
Are there any practices that you use to help make your workday more bearable? Share your favorite ideas in the comments!