Last week we shared 11 ways to help deal with chronic pain. This week, we’re sharing an additional grouping of methods to live with chronic pain.
A nutritious diet and eating right improve blood sugar control, helps keep your weight in a healthy range, lowers the odds of heart disease, and aids digestion. Avoid refined or processed foods. Aim for a diet filled with fresh produce, lean proteins, whole plants and whole grains that are high in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. We are what we eat. Look for foods that decrease inflammation in order to decrease pain. Map out meals for the week so they’re ready to go and make healthy snacks easily accessible when hungry.
For those of us suffering from chronic pain, the urge to scream at the top of our lungs, “STOP!” can be overwhelming. Research shows it may also be a coping mechanism for modulating pain. When you hit your finger with a hammer, the pain signal shoots through the spine to the brain telling you you’re hurt. Gate control theorizes a system of complex “gates” the sensation has to pass through before that event registers. And each gate can weaken or enhance those signals. Relaxation techniques, massage, medications, ice, and heat can open or close the gates and change the perceived pain. We may not be able to consciously impact those gates, but the nervous system can only handle so many travelers on the same path and allow so much through the gate at one time. Because pain and vocalizing travel together, screaming or cursing might help close some gates, thereby blocking other transmissions, such as those from pain.
Keep a journal
Sharing with others can feel too much at times. But getting out your frustrations, anger and feelings can make a huge difference in how you feel. That’s where keeping a journal can help. It allows us to voice our innermost thoughts without fear of judgment. It also helps us to keep track of what activities help and which make our pain worse- the hours slept each night, reactions and responses to medications, daily exercises performed, inner emotions, and concerns. You can get a better sense of how pain impacts your life. We are all different, what works for one may not work for another. Seeing it in black and white can aid in making those adjustments that can make all the difference to getting through the day. And don’t forget to keep your provider in the loop.
Give yourself down time
Don’t push yourself too hard, learn to set limits. Listen to your body and take the time to recover. That may mean saying no or setting aside a moment to meditate and rest before tackling another task. When traveling I used to schedule hours between day activities and those at night. Allowing for a long hot bath and an hour in bed made all the difference in what I could accomplish. But on those rare occasion when I’d had enough, I also knew when it was time to say “enough!” Don’t add more stress and pain to an already hectic life, scheduling breaks can make all the difference in getting through the day.
One potent prescription for pain relief is to keep busy with activities and friends that keep your mind from focusing on it. It’s pushing ourselves to get out the door that’s hard. But most times once we are out and about we feel better. That’s because research has shown friends are more powerful than morphine! Next time you feel like crawling into bed and cancelling that dinner or lunch date, don’t. Other wonderful distractions include- coloring, drawing, making artwork, singing, dancing, reading, cooking, or gardening. Take classes over the Internet, join clubs- there are a myriad of ways to stay engaged. We can take control of our lives and define how we live with our pain.
Know your medicines
I can’t stress this enough. Far too often, patients have no idea what they are taking, how much or why. It’s imperative to understand all the medicines you’re taking, what they are for, any side effects, when and how they are to be taken and whether they can be stopped without consequences. The goal is to adhere to a normal mood and activity level. Bring a complete, up to date and accurate list to each appointment. Medicines and even over the counter agents can interact so include those as well. Be proactive, ask questions and look for answers that work for your needs.
Ask for help
Reaching out is a great habit to develop and the only way most of us survive. It’s OK to tell friends and family what you’re feeling and what you need. No one can read our minds or understand our condition if we don’t share. When the statistics show one in three people suffer from chronic pain in this country- we are not alone. So, ask for help. It’s not worth the consequences. Don’t clean the gutters, move that heavy pot, replace those light bulbs. . .
As an Oxford study proved, having friends can be as powerful as morphine in treating our pain. Social interactions trigger the release of our own feel-good hormones- endorphins. They in turn help to elevate our mood and are the body’s way of giving us natural pain relief. It showed people with larger social networks have a higher pain tolerance. Socially withdrawing just makes us worse. Getting out may be the last thing we want to do when we’re hurting but it’s exactly what will help break the pain cycle. Next time you feel like cancelling that lunch date, think again. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
Replace negative thoughts
Living with chronic pain is exhausting and never ending. The more overwhelmed we feel, the worse our pain. Listen to how you see your own pain and the words you use. Are they negative and self-defeating? “I hurt so much I can’t do anything. Nothing I do seems to help. I’ll never get better.” Replace negative thoughts with constructive alternatives. “Action makes me feel better physically and emotionally. Even when I hurt, there are things I can do that I enjoy. There are people in my life who care and are there for me.” Talk to your provider and get help if needed. Join a support group to share with others who deal with the same issues.
Having everything in its place and a schedule and plan for how daily activities get done, in advance, can reduce stress and ultimately pain. We all know pain worsens with anxiety and worry. Not knowing how we’ll survive a certain outing, clean the house, grocery shop or even make the bed can be overwhelming. That’s why staying organized is so important. Having a plan and getting those involved onboard can make all the difference. When issues do come up during the day they can be dealt with individually and not as part of an avalanche.
Use proper mechanics
It’s easy to directly bend over to pick up an item, feel the need to lug around a heavy wallet filled with items rarely used, or a large water bottle throughout the day. All needlessly add to our pain. Get rid of items you don’t really need and remember to use stronger, larger joints as levers e.g. bend with your knees when picking something up off the ground, not with your back. Carry small purses filled with only what’s required or use backpacks with padded handles that distribute weight across a larger area. When opening doors use the entire body not just the arm and keep it slightly bent to prevent the weight from settling on the elbow. Guide with the thumb, don’t lift with it.
Pain impacts every aspect of our lives, but it doesn’t have to control it. With these effective measures we are the ones deciding our future.