Chronic pain — defined as pain that lasts for over six months — can have a number of causes ranging from headache to joint pain, injury, backaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other chronic conditions. Sometimes chronic pain even occurs in the absence of any identifiable injury or dysfunction, but that makes the pain no less real. And while chronic pain can vary in its intensity from mild to excruciating, the experience of pain is a subjective one. Different people have been found to perceive the same painful stimulus differently, because the way you respond to pain is based largely on your genetics and neurological makeup.
Learning to live with chronic pain isn’t easy, but it’s possible. The most important thing you can do to make coping with your chronic pain easier is to believe that you’re capable of living a rich, full, happy life even though you’re in pain. Once you accept that pain is part of your life, you can move on and begin implementing pain management strategies such as relaxation, good self-care, exercise, hobbies, seeking emotional support and staying positive.
Accept Your Pain and Your Limitations
Accepting your pain, and the limitations it imposes, doesn’t mean giving up on life and wallowing in misery. Instead, it means that you stop trying to fight your pain. Whether or not your chronic pain has an identifiable cause, the sooner you accept that it is a part of your life for the foreseeable future, the sooner you can get on with the important business of finding ways to enjoy your life in spite of the discomfort. There may indeed come a day in the future when your pain has diminished or gone away entirely, but believing that you cannot be happy until that day comes will only stop you from being happy right now.
Staying positive in the face of a debilitating pain problem can be tough, but when it comes to chronic pain, how you think about your situation can go a long way toward determining how well you function in day-to-day life. If you remain confident in your abilities and determined not to let chronic pain hold you back, you can continue to go to work, enjoy a healthy social life and participate in the activities that bring you joy. If, however, you let yourself become consumed by stress, fear, depression and worry, you will begin to believe that your whole life has to come to a halt due to chronic pain, and you’ll find yourself unable to continue doing the things you once enjoyed.
It’s important not to start assuming that the worst-case scenario will befall you. Nor should you fall into the trap of thinking that your chronic pain is too horrible to bear and that it will ruin the whole rest of your life. This is called “catastrophizing,” and it will make your pain feel worse.
Take Care of Yourself
When you allow your health to deteriorate, your pain will also worsen. To keep your pain from getting worse, and even to perhaps improve it, make sure you get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet. Exercise regularly, to the best of your abilities. Talk to your doctor about forms of exercise you can participate in without aggravating your condition. Doctors often advise people suffering acute pain to refrain from exercise while healing occurs, but that attitude isn’t helpful for chronic pain conditions. In most cases, regular exercise can improve chronic pain, and can even prevent more pain by protecting you from injury.
Stress management is also an important part of chronic pain reduction. Practice progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or other stress management therapies. Massage and acupuncture also help many people manage stress. You can, of course, combine these techniques with pharmaceutical pain treatments.
If you have nothing better to do, you’ll be entirely too tempted to dwell on your pain. On the other hand, if you’re distracted by a hobby you enjoy, your awareness of your pain will slip away as you focus on the object of your interest. Read, do crafts, spend time with your kids or grandkids, or anything else that keeps your mind occupied.
Seek Social Support
One of the hardest parts of coping with chronic pain is the lack of understanding among those close to you. Loved ones may try to coddle you, which isn’t good for your state of mind or your pain. Alternatively, they might be so uncomfortable with your pain that they pull away entirely. While it’s okay to talk to your loved ones about how they can support you in coping with your chronic pain, it’s also a great idea to look into a support group where you can seek the company of others who know what you’re going through.
Chronic pain doesn’t have to stop you from living life to the fullest. By finding ways to cope with chronic pain, you can live the full, happy life you deserve, and continue to be a blessing in the lives of those who love you.