Chronic pain is when a person experiences pain that can range from intense, to a milder level that still significantly impedes functioning. The origin of chronic pain can usually be attributed to an injury or illness that occurred in a person’s life, and the pain they initially feel is a result of this. Sometimes the chronic pain is the result of an unresolvable physical health problem, however, often the extended period of pain has no obvious physical cause, as the pain has extended beyond the normal healing period. Though seeking medical and psychological interventions are the recommended treatment options for chronic pain, the following are some other helpful strategies that can be helpful for managing chronic pain.
1. Pacing & Spacing
Often you may experience easier and more difficult days as a result of your pain. At times you may not wish to do anything, which can become a routine. Try to break this routine by engaging in activities that are challenging but achievable. This may include:
Engage in these activities on both your easier and more difficult days, and over time try to improve how long you engage in an activity for. The spacing portion of this step involves breaking activities into small, manageable chunks, which can contribute to you eventually achieving a larger goal (e.g. to make dinner, take out all the cooking equipment, take rest, chop vegetables, take rest, cook meat, take rest, etc.).
As a result of your chronic pain you may have experienced a lack of interest or ability to engage in social interactions or activities you previously enjoyed. Set goals for yourself so as to improve your ability to engage in more of these meaningful activities. Similar to pacing, this will often involve gradually building up from smaller goals, such as:
- Moving around the house
Then moving up to larger goals such as:
- Going to the movies
- Walking the dog
- Playing with your children
Often people who suffer chronic pain may lose their self-confidence or ability to tell people how they feel and what they need. Be sure to tell people how you are feeling and things you may need. Rather than getting angry and yelling at others, stay calm and say what you mean to effectively communicate your point. Rather than complaining to others, try to come up with practical, achievable ways you can improve your life, and ways those around you can assist you with this.
Stress can have negative effects on a wide range of physical and mental health problems, including chronic pain. Try to understand what increases your stress levels. Learn activities that relax your body and mind, such as mindfulness meditation and progressive muscle relaxation. Choose a few activities that best suit your lifestyle and incorporate them into your routine in order to protect yourself against increased stress.
5. Body & Mind
Chronic pain can have both physical and mental effects on a person. It is important for those experiencing chronic pain to understand that, though they may be feeling the physical portion of the pain consistently, it is also affecting the mind. Try to improve your sleep hygiene (e.g. stable sleep and wake times, avoiding screens close to bedtime, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake) and increase your levels of physical activity, within the level you are able to. It is understandable that if you suffer from chronic pain you may have some apprehensions about exercising. However, by staying active you can effectively reduce tension or stress, and it can overall help to improve your physical health and quality of life.
Often those who suffer from chronic pain may also suffer pain flare-ups. For instance, you may experience a period of improved vitality followed by a bout of intense pain. Sometimes this can be due to overextending yourself during windows of reduced pain, leading to pain increases (this is where pacing and spacing can be protective). Often during flare-ups, people revert back to old habits (e.g. being physically inactive, significantly reducing activity levels, feeling defeated and hopeless), which generally has a negative effect on pain levels, mood and self-esteem. During flare-ups, try to remind yourself that your pain may only be temporary. Try not to panic or give up, and instead return back to your physical and lifestyle activities gradually. In this case, setting small goals can again be helpful.