It is estimated that 30%, or 116 million, Americans are living with chronic pain, an active long-term pain syndrome that can commence after an illness, surgery, or from an unknown etiology. No matter how it begins it can wreak havoc on mind, body, and spirit.
Chronic pain is associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression and impacts all areas of functioning, including interpersonal relationships. It can affect a person’s self esteem and confidence and can influence how we view the world when we start to look through a negativistic lens. When chronic pain enters the picture, the sufferer may reinforce a ‘worry and ruminate’ pattern of thinking that is compounded by more chronic pain.
As difficult as it is to deal with chronic pain, there are ways to cope and to meet chronic pain head on.
Here are a few tips:
- It is imperative to have an established and trusting relationship with a doctor and to stay current with them. You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
- Many people self-medicate when dealing with chronic pain issues. Alcohol, drugs, or the combination of the two may temporarily deal with the pain, but can end up creating abuse and dependency issues that can exacerbate all associated problems.
- Being able to talk about your physical and emotional pain can provide relief and increase a sense of empowerment. Professional therapies which can help include clinical hypnosis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT) which utilizes acceptance and mindfulness strategies with behavior change strategies to increase psychological functioning.
- Ask your doctor if exercise is warranted. One of the great benefits of exercise is that you can get out of your head and into your body in a healthy and mindful way.
- People with chronic pain can begin to isolate from the world around them. Everyone needs time alone, but try to reframe isolation into chosen periods of solitude. And, when you are ready, you can mix and mingle with friends and loved ones.
- If you don’t have a hobby, find one. Maybe it’s time to move out of your comfort zone and experience something unique and new. People who engage in a hobby can forget about their pain while focusing on something pleasurable such as oil painting, walking, or writing.
- If you connect spiritually, great. If not, you might try reaching out to a mentor for support, centering, and inner peace.
- Take two to three 5-minute breathing breaks daily. Slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth like you are blowing on hot soup. Concentrate on your breath. Breathe in relaxation while exhaling tension. Visualize the pain’s location, size, and color and mindfully decrease its size and intensity.
- Laugh! Watch comedy shows, listen to or tell a good joke. Nothing helps with chronic pain like a good laugh!
- Accept the small gains and accept yourself as is. Try to get rid of the critical thinker inside that is causing all of that ‘stinkin thinkin’.
Dr. Amy Austin is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC # 41252) and Doctor of Clinical Psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.