For many people with chronic conditions, living with pain and physical discomfort has become a way of life.
Indeed, chronic pain is now one of the most common problems plaguing Americans, with 1 in 3 adults affected by it. With chronic pain, living a full and active life may seem out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be this way! On the contrary, it is possible to improve both your level of functioning and quality of life while reducing your chronic pain symptoms. The key, like many things in life, is to have the right skills, support, and direction. This guide will show you how.
The Cycle of Chronic Pain
When someone suffers from chronic pain, what happens is that their overall activity level diminishes and their muscles becomes weak and deconditioned, to the point that maybe even the slightest activity hurts. On top of that, pain often leads to feelings of anxiety, frustration, sadness, or stressfulness—emotions that further exacerbates the sensation of pain.
Endorphins: The Natural Painkiller
The good news in all of this is that you do not need to be helpless in your pain. This is because your brain plays a big role in chronic pain–it acts as the gatekeeper with the ability to transmit as well as block pain. What does this mean for you? It means that your mindset–what you think and how you feel–makes a huge difference in the degree of physical pain that you perceive.
Why is this? Your brain has the remarkable ability to secrete natural painkillers (called endorphins) that work very similarly to the pain medications you might take in the form of a pill. One of the keys to effectively controlling chronic pain symptoms, therefore, is to take advantage of this process by incorporating certain activities into your day that encourage the release of endorphins. How can you do this? With the Chronic Pain Toolbox!
The Chronic Pain Toolbox
#1 Accept…and Move On
This is the first step in effectively self-managing your chronic pain. To be clear–acceptance is not about giving up. It is about acknowledging that something is there and that you have the willingness and determination to take control of it. Once you acknowledge your chronic condition, don’t stay in the same spot; rather, be encouraged to take the next step…
#2 Choose to Take Control
Ask yourself: Are you currently taking control over your chronic pain or are you just coping? To cope means that your days are left to chance—some days are “good” and some are “bad.” In contrast, to take control is to take a proactive stance to carry out positive, planned actions (such as the ones below) that reduce the ‘luck’ element, so that you can be free to live your life…every day.
#3 Prioritize & Plan
Prioritizing and planning your days is an essential tool. Take a moment to consider what things are important in your life and remind yourself that it doesn’t need to be done all at once. Write down the things that you would like to do, and then choose the ones that are more important to you at that moment. Remind yourself to stay flexible. By setting priorities, you will have a starting point to lead you back into a more active life.
#4 Action Plan Your Way to Success
You may have the motivation to turn over a new leaf by doing all the things that you have been wanting to do, but resist the urge to jump in. Instead, use the Action Planning technique that you learned at the beginning of this program to set goals that are within your current power to reach. With larger goals, break them down into several manageable action plans. This strategy not only helps prevent fatigue and setback, but you will be able to look back and feel good about the progress you have made.
#5 Track Your Progress
Keeping a record of your day to day progress is the most effective way to truly see how far you have come. Our tendency is to underestimate our accomplishments–especially when we are taking small, steady steps. This can lead to frustration and discouragement. By recognizing and acknowledging the successes you have achieved, you can continue to build on them.
#6 Release Those Endorphins!
Exercise, stress management, and relaxation techniques are the three big triggers for endorphin release, which means that incorporating them into your days is a huge component of controlling chronic pain. You may have already learned and tried many of these techniques during this program. If so, be encouraged to continue doing them! The more you practice them, the more benefit you will find you can derive from them.
#7 See the Big Picture
As you incorporate the above tools into your days, you will see that pain does not need to be the center of life. By choosing to focus on your abilities, not your disabilities, you will grow stronger in your belief that you can live a full life despite having chronic pain. Remember, take things one day at a time. You’ll get there!
#8 Reach Out to Others
Once you have begun to find ways to manage your chronic pain, reach out and share what you know. Living with chronic pain is an ongoing learning experience. Being a successful self-manager means being open to giving and getting support from others.