Perhaps the most challenging part about having chronic pain is the feeling that you’ve lost control. Once upon a time, you may have set your own schedule and created your own routine, but now Pain is in charge. And Pain is a fickle ruler. One day, you may feel fine and the next, you can barely get out of bed. Not only can this make prioritizing work and relationships difficult, but it can also make setting goals and planning for the future seem nearly impossible.
Luckily, however, there are a few steps you can take to regain control of your body and take charge of your destiny. Though many of the most beneficial changes you can make involve goals that may take time to achieve—such as losing weight or finding a good physical therapist—there are several things you can do right now to bring your body, mind and soul some much-needed relief.
1. Notice your thoughts and how they make you feel.
Renowned author and speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” It’s true. Your thoughts play a huge role in shaping your reality. And while they may not be the cause of your chronic pain, it’s likely they’re making the pain feel worse. Negative thoughts lead to anxiety and depression, which can result in tense muscles, headaches, fatigue, or insomnia—all ailments that have been known to exasperate the symptoms of chronic pain.
Taking control of your thoughts isn’t about “thinking positive,” however. The reality is that you won’t be able to eliminate negative thinking entirely; it’s a part of the human experience. Your goal, instead, should be to divert attention elsewhere. Don’t give your negative thoughts any extra energy. Simply notice the thoughts as they occur and observe how they make you feel. As thoughts like “I can’t do this anymore,” “the pain is killing me,” or “chronic pain is ruining my life,” flitter through your mind, see if you can view them objectively and resist the temptation to allow them to pull you under. After you’ve sat with the thoughts and whatever feelings that accompany them, such as fear, irritation or despair, try to refocus your attention elsewhere. By consciously refocusing, you aren’t ignoring or “squashing” your thoughts—you’re simply choosing not to allow them to take your mind and emotions hostage.
2. Use your pain as an opportunity to practice mindfulness.
Though you would never have wished to have this pain, now that it’s here, you can use it as a tool to help you become more grounded in the present, physical moment. Let the pain be your guide, your teacher, and embrace it as an opportunity to cultivate a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is the art of quieting the “monkey brain”—the nonstop chatter of thoughts—and living more fully in the present moment. Studies have shown that mindfulness helps to decrease depression and stress. It also helps to increase memory, focus, and general relationship and life satisfaction. People who practice mindfulness have also been shown to be less emotionally reactive and more flexible and open-minded. Engaging in a mindfulness practice can even boost your immune system.
You can practice mindfulness by directing your attention away from the thoughts in your head and onto the sensations of the physical body. Focus on the way floor feels under your feet as you walk across your bedroom carpet, for example, or on the feeling of your fingers on the keyboard as you type an email. Pay close attention to the cool breeze on your skin as you cross the supermarket parking lot or to the hum of the refrigerator as you sit quietly at the kitchen table in the morning.
The next time you notice that stabbing pain in your hip or that dull ache in your shoulder, use it as an opportunity to check in with your physical body and your surroundings. Note the pain, but then note how the rest of your body feels.
Are there any areas of your body that aren’t in pain right now? Focus on those areas. How are they feeling? Warm? Cold? Light? Heavy?
With mindfulness, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. But by taking a few minutes out of every day to focus on “the now,” you’ll find that with time, the pain will begin to subside. Although mindfulness alone may not eliminate the pain completely, it can help lessen the strong emotions and thoughts associated with the pain, which will make it feel less intense.
3. Focus on your breathing.
If mindfulness seems like too big of an undertaking, try deep breathing. Every time you catch yourself thinking “This pain is killing me! I can’t take it anymore,” divert your attention to your breaths. Take a few minutes to inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. As you do this, concentrate on feeling the air as it enters and leaves your body and notice the way your lungs feel as they expand. Try, if you can, to feel the air as it enters and expands your stomach.
In addition to being a simple way to practice mindfulness, deep breathing helps relax the nervous system, detoxifies the lymphatic system and oxygenates the blood. Deep breathing produces endorphins, which can help lessen pain and make you feel calmer and more in tune with the present. What’s more, research has demonstrated that deep breathing can help you lose weight.
4. Stretch and exercise.
If you’re in a lot of pain, one positive step you can take right now is to stand up and stretch.
“Pain causes you to use your muscles less and move less,” Dr. Pohl writes in the book A Day Without Pain, “which eventually makes it that much more painful to do just about everything. When you limit the use of your muscles because of pain, they become tighter, which causes more pain.”
Stretching, Dr. Pohl asserts, can help decrease muscle tension and increase strength and blood flow. It can also boost energy. Thus, if you’re in too much pain at the moment to exercise, try a few simple stretches. This article provides a few examples (with photos and instructions) if you need help getting started.
If you feel you can manage some exercise, a light workout can do wonders to help with chronic pain. As Dr. Pohl wrote in A Day Without Pain, “Although the best pain-relieving power of exercise seems to come from sustained aerobic activity like brisk walking, jogging, or riding an exercise bike for thirty minutes or more, any exercise or activity is better than none.”
Exercise causes the body to produce endorphins, which can help to reduce anxiety and depression. Exercise also increases serotonin levels in the body, which helps to block the brain’s perception of pain. It can also help you sleep better, which can have a positive effect on both your physical and emotional health.
Jason Harper, Personal Trainer at Las Vegas Recovery Center, details some of the best exercises for chronic pain, which includes the gently yet effective “sit-to-stand” exercise.
5. Call a professional for help.
Sometimes the pain can be so great that you can’t manage it on your own. If this is the the case, then one of the best things you can do is to admit to yourself that your pain has become unmanageable and then take the necessary steps to get professional help.
Some of the most effective treatment options for chronic pain, according to Dr. Pohl, include holistic options such as acupuncture and chiropractic therapy.
The following are a list of professionals that can help:
- Massage therapist
- Reiki massage therapist
- Chiropractic therapist
- Physical therapist
At Las Vegas Recovery Center, we offer a comprehensive chronic pain recovery program that involves all the of the above therapies as well as cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, meditation, EMDR, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), Chi Kung, and group therapy. To learn more about our philosophy on how chronic pain treatment involves more than mere “pain management,” call 1-888-219-1158.
Although a massage therapist or acupuncturist may not be able to heal your pain in one visit, by picking up the phone and setting up an appointment, you’ll be taking the first step toward taking control of your physical and mental health. If you do nothing else, do that. Self-empowerment can go a long way to making you feel better again.
About LVRC: Las Vegas Recovery Center (LVRC) is an outpatient and inpatient drug rehab and chronic pain recovery center located in northwest Las Vegas, Nevada.