By Mattie Bogoslavsky, PhD and Amelia Hartman, LCSW
If you are one of the many individuals dealing with chronic pain, you know the significant toll it takes on your physical and mental well-being. You may struggle with insecurity and feeling like you’ve lost autonomy over your own body. The daily physical and mental struggles can be challenging to accept. The good news is there are ways to lighten this burden. We hope you find some of the tips below helpful in alleviating some of the psychological and physical discomfort you may experience with your chronic pain.
Be strategic and start with small changes.
Research finds that most people struggle when they attempt to improve their lives by making drastic changes all at once. Instead of relief, this may lead to frustration and disappointment when trying to keep up with everything. Instead, we encourage you to start by making just one or two small changes. This allows you to build confidence in the results of these changes and your ability to be consistent. You might start by making a small change in your diet. An Anti-Inflammatory Diet has been proven helpful in reducing swelling and relieving pain. An internet search of this diet change might leave you overwhelmed with food lists, meal plans and supplement options. Remember to start small, such as adding a handful of blueberries to your breakfast or raw spinach in your sandwich that day. If a change is not sustainable for three days in a row, it’s too big. Break it into a smaller level of change and try again.
Make movement a priority.
Regular movement and exercise is vital to your physical and mental well-being. The benefits of daily movement include: improving your sleep, stress relief, an increase in day-to-day energy levels, and improved sex drive, and it encourages the body’s natural weight-loss process. Try using your new strategy for small changes and start by adding ANY form of movement for 5 or 10 minutes a day. You might consider parking further away from the entrance of work or a store, or getting up once an hour for a brief stretch break during the day. Slowly build up to 15 to 30 minutes each day. Swimming and water aerobics are great low-impact options for exercise.
The water provides resistance and support without adding strain or risking more physical damage. You do not need to confine yourself to high-impact exercises like running and weight lifting.
Treat yourself as a priority.
It may feel overwhelming and unaffordable to add more wellness practices because many of these practices can be so cost-dependent. However, physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, and mental health counseling are services where you will learn tools and strategies that provide physical and emotional relief and are critical supplements to traditional pain medications. Some ways to begin making yourself more of a priority may include:
Assess your monthly spending and find areas you could better budget your spending and add in a new wellness activity. Consider low-cost activities, such as spending time with friends, reading a mental health book or workbook, or attending events at library or public spaces in town.
Identify what activities help you to feel your best and when you feel the most energized. This might include cooking, gardening, reading, etc. Intentionally add time in your weekly schedule for these activities, to ensure you are being purposeful about participating in your life in a way that feels authentic to your wants and needs.
Incorporate mindfulness as a daily practice.
Mindfulness means to focus your attention and awareness on your in-the-moment experiences. Instead of living in the past or the future in your mind, being mindful allows you to be present to what is happening right here and right now. There is significant research that shows that mindfulness helps to reduce levels of stress and experiences of pain. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an intervention that was initially started with chronic pain patients and is an effective way to reduce your experience of pain. There are courses or books you can read on MBSR and mindfulness, or you can start with one of our favorites, a Body Scan.
Ask for help and support.
Many report feeling a significant amount of shame and stigma in their experience and treatment of chronic pain. Being your own advocate will be imperative to receiving the help you deserve. Take time to educate yourself as fully as you can on your own diagnosis to ensure you understand how to best advocate for your needs. Sometimes people find working with a case manager, health advocate, or mental health counselor can provide them the space to clarify their needs and learn ways to communicate it more effectively. You may also benefit from being involved in a community where you can receive ongoing support and have a place where you feel understood and connected to others. This may include a therapy group or a support group for others with chronic pain.