Living with chronic pain is not easy. There’s no escaping it as chronic pain seeps into every aspect of your life, sucking the enjoyment from your days and the sleep from your nights. Pain takes all of your focus, making it difficult to work, or do other tasks. Unfortunately, too many of us do have to live with chronic pain of some kind, whether it’s from migraines, fibromyalgia, or some other illness or injury.
What is Chronic Pain?
Most everyone has experienced pain at some point in their life, but typically that pain is acute, or short-lasting. A headache that goes away within minutes or hours, a stubbed toe that hurts for a bit but then feels better. Even the flu can bring on aches that can leave you feeling terrible, but they are gone within days or weeks.
Chronic pain doesn’t just go away. By definition chronic pain lasts longer than three months. The causes of chronic pains vary, and are often unknown. Pain may start off as acute, as from a broken bone or the flu, but can turn chronic when your nerves and synapses that process that pain refuse to shut down and acknowledge that the source of the pain has cleared. Sometimes, the source of the pain hasn’t been found, making it difficult to treat the pain. Common treatments that work for acute pains, don’t tend to work as well for chronic pain.
Chronic Pain Coping Mechanisms
People deal with pain in different ways. Some choose to ignore the pain, continuing life as if nothing has changed (at least for as long as they can). Often, this results in a crash when the pain can no longer be ignored. Others acknowledge the pain from the start and limit their activities, only doing what they can.
There are two primary mechanisms of coping – active coping and passive coping. Active coping involves taking personal responsibility to make mental and physical changes to deal with the pain. While passive coping means waiting for others to find answers (ie. waiting for a doctor to provide a treatment that fixes the pain).
Pacing Your Day
When you live with chronic pain trying to do too much just sets you up for failure. The more you push yourself, the more difficult things become and the more likely that your symptoms will flare. That said, pacing is a learned habit, much like any other.
The key to pacing when you have chronic illness is breaking tasks down into manageable chunks, and taking time to rest in between. Another part of this is learning to listen to your body so that you can sense the early signs of fatigue and pain before they overwhelm you. As time goes on, this becomes second nature and you can accomplish more with less pain and fatigue.
Setting Manageable Goals
Goals are important for everyone, but when we set our sights on goals that are too big, we fail before we start. Understanding your limits means setting small, manageable goals and celebrating those achievements.
Focus on something small that you want to do today, whether it’s walking to the mailbox or reading a chapter in your favorite book. While chronic pain may limit your abilities and activities, it doesn’t need to completely stop them. Find new ways to enjoy life in small ways. You can even set larger goals for yourself by breaking them into smaller bite-size chunks. Look at your big goal and make a list of what is needed to achieve it. Work towards each individual step as if it is the main goal. Remember, it’s not how fast you get there, but that you are moving in the right direction.
Rest and Relaxation
Chronic pain can get in the way of rest and relaxation. The pain can cause stress that keeps muscles tight, and impedes sleep. That lack of sleep results in increased pain. It’s a terrible cycle, one that we have to work hard to break.
Even if you have difficulties falling asleep, make it a point to set aside time to rest. Consider meditation and mindfulness to help you relax your body and your mind.
How you choose to cope with chronic pain can make a huge difference in your outcomes. You can choose to seek out options, or you can wait and hope that they come to you. By taking an active role in coping with chronic pain, you gain a sense of control. That sense of control can relieve some of your stress and lessen your pain burden, and anxiety as well.