Living With Chronic Pain

My Coping Mechanisms

I’m asked all the time by patient’s friends and family how I cope with chronic pain. I have explained in past posts what my day looks like and how I had to make that pivotal shift from “fix me” to living with pain. That shift required changing my perspective and acknowledging this was a part of my life that was not going to change. I had to learn to adapt and embrace this side not just so I could survive, but so I could enjoy my life. That doesn’t mean I don’t continue to seek any and all remedies available, it just means pain no longer rules my life, I do. I accept the parameters it may impose e.g. I require a bath wherever I travel, limited time in the car or plane, and activities that allow frequent rest periods. Once I honored my body’s needs, life opened up again. 

Here are a list of things I do regularly:

Exercise

I’m a firm believer that exercise is the number one way to combat pain. It may seem antithetical that being more active could actually improve your suffering and  mobility but it does. The more you move, stretch and mobilize the better you circulate oxygen and nutrients to painful areas and allow the removal of toxins and inflammation.

Even a few minutes every day can impact pain levels. Make it part of your daily regimen- get up in the morning and do a couple of minutes of stretching before you get out of bed, come home from work and stretch another few minutes, walk-in place while you brush your teeth. It doesn’t require a huge commitment. Just a few minutes several times a day can help. Unsure which exercises are best? Check out our exercise posts on Tuesdays for a variety of ways to get moving even when sitting in a chair for an extended period of time.

Hot baths

I survive on three baths a day. If you don’t have a bathtub, use the shower- hot soothing water will make all the difference in your life. It’s the only way I survive when I travel. A bath is a necessity, not a luxury. I get up in the morning, feed my dogs and then crawl into a warm, soothing bath. After 20 to 30 minutes I can then actually do my stretches and get on with my day. I come home from a long day of work, feed my dogs and then get back into another warm, soothing bath, then I get on my elliptical. After my elliptical I take one more bath to decompress and relax before I crawl into bed.

Diet

An anti-inflammatory diet is essential to understand that what you put in your mouth affects your body. Sugar, fats, and processed foods all impact how inflammation occurs in the body and anything we can do to decrease that is a huge step towards offering pain relief.

Socializing

Enjoying friends and family has been limited because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t change the fact that socializing sets off a chain reaction equivalent to ingesting morphine! The more we interact with others the more our pain is diminished. Sharing is a wonderful way to lighten our load, even if it’s across a computer screen. 

Activating my own endorphins

Exercise, being out with friends, walking in the sunshine can actually produce endorphins that can then act to decrease our pain. I engage in all the activities I can to ensure my own body boosts my natural pain resources.

Diverting attention

Diversion is a biggie. Too often, the pain is so intense it’s all we can think about and focus on. But the more attention we give it, the more its fed, and the worse it gets. Before it’s to that point, depending on the circumstances, I’ll pick one of many options to divert my attention. At work it may be a few minutes in my office with a cold pack, soft music and meditating. At home, a hot bath while reading a good book, taking my dogs for a walk, exercising or crawling into bed with a heating pad and watching a comedy on TV may be the best answer. 

Just breath

Meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing, and artwork can significantly impact pain. When times are tough taking a moment to assess where I’m at, what resources are available (like a bath, quiet spot for a meditative moment, ice or heat allows me to decide what the best course of action may be to move forward.

Let go of stress

Stress is a natural part of life. Especially today. But allowing it to worsen our pain by keeping us in a perpetual fight or flight mode is not. This exacerbates pain and worsens anxieties. I like to look at my worries and put them into 2 categories:

Those I can control: Then finding a method and resolution by making a list or setting specific goals that will help me to resolve the issues and let them go. 

Those I can’t control: Focusing on issues I can’t control just exacerbates them. Learning to accept I can’t change the outcome and deciding the best way to let go is never easy but always necessary.

Sleep

Sleep is always challenging. Too often, after a long day at work, I’m not able to crawl into bed and decompress until 9 or 10 at night. By then I crave a chance to read, watch TV or check out the day’s news. It’s easy to get carried away and before I realize it, hours have passed, leaving precious few to sleep. Sometimes my biggest challenge is turning off the light and calling it a night.


We are not powerless. We have tremendous resources available to us. All we have to do is choose which opinion is best in which situation.

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