Life can be stressful enough without the added complications of chronic pain. Fortunately, several changes to your daily routine, as well as working as a team with your healthcare providers and loved ones, can help you manage living with chronic pain in a way that minimizes stress.
Become an active member of your treatment team
“They treat me like a number.”
“They still don’t believe my pain is real.”
“I wish they would stop telling me that it’s all in my head.”
We hear this from patients far too often as they recount their journey to pain relief. Remember, you are in charge of your body and the treatment you pursue. Too often patients forget that they can and should explore the different treatment options available to them. For instance, don’t assume that surgery is your only option if initial medications do not provide relief and consider whether alternative therapies may be appropriate for you. Furthermore, finding a provider who will listen to you, your story, your concerns and your expectations is important. Our team firmly believes that patient input is invaluable information that must be considered when making decisions about the care plan.
A big part of managing stress is feeling that you are in control – and becoming an active member of your treatment team will help you get there.
It’s okay to ask for help
Living with chronic pain may make you think twice about asking for help. Chronic illness sufferers often fight extra hard to prove they are able to do everything on their own. While you may not believe it, your loved ones do see you as strong and capable. They offer their help because they care about you and want to make this journey easier for you.
Part of the stress associated with chronic pain comes from a feeling of loneliness and isolation. Whenever you feel like this, reach out to someone in your support network right away. Whether it’s help with a household chore, a small errand or just having someone to talk to, it is important to act on those feelings as they come up. Over time, holding your feelings in undermines psychological and emotional well being.
Don’t forget, everybody needs help now and again – it is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, people who are successful at reducing stress in their life know this and are willing to lean on their support network when the time comes.
You don’t need to finish everything today
Many of us have chore lists, whether that involves physically writing out a list of tasks or simply keeping a mental tab of what needs to be accomplished throughout the week. Living with chronic pain can make these lists seem endless. If you only make it half way through your list for the day, don’t let that stress you out. Whenever you feel yourself starting to worry about getting everything done, take a step back and really ask yourself, “Is the world going to end because I didn’t finish cleaning out the freezer today?” Perspective is everything.
An effective compromise is to create a two-part list. The first part should include all of the things you must accomplish that week. Next, add several things that you would like to accomplish but are nothing that cannot wait until later. This approach will give you the ability to prioritize effectively and to feel a sense of accomplishment as you cross things off the list. By the time you reach the non-immediate tasks, you will already feel good about what you’ve already finished. If you do not complete the non-immediate tasks, there is no reason to feel bad.
The key is to focus only on the current task at hand – don’t worry or think about the rest of the list. Doing so will help keep your days more manageable.
Make time for relaxation
No matter what your week looks like, if you are fighting chronic pain, you need to carve out some relaxation time for yourself. Just 30 minutes a day can significantly reduce your stress levels. Make a promise to yourself that you will take at least half of hour to do whatever it is that you find most relaxing, every day – no excuses. Don’t think about your day or tomorrow; just focus on your body and the rest you deserve. Here are a few ideas to help you relax:
- Meet friends for lunch or dinner
- Read a book
- Go for a walk
- Practice mindfulness
Have you found other activities to help you relax and manage pain? We’d love to hear about them – share your relaxation tips and activities in the comments below.
Catch some zzzzzz…
For years, it was believed that stress and pain cause sleep issues. Yet, research is now suggesting that the opposite may be true. Not getting an adequate amount of sleep each night can greatly increase stress, which in turn leads to an increase in pain. The important thing to remember about sleep is that we are all different and we all require different amounts. While your friend may be able to function on just five hours of sleep, you may need a full seven or eight hours in order to feel good. Always listen to what your body is telling you. If you regularly find getting out of bed to be a struggle, try going to bed an hour earlier; you may be surprised to see how this small change can affect your stress and pain levels.