In the book Pain Recovery – How to Find Balance and Reduce Suffering from Chronic Pain by Mel Pohl, MD, FASAM, Frank Szabo, LADC, Daniel Shiode, PhD, and Robert Hunter, PhD, loneliness is defined as:
“…a state of sadness due specifically to the emotional experience of being disconnected from others, of feeling and/or being, in reality, all alone.”
The book offers further details, explaining:
“This feeling may come from a sense of being alone with your pain or alone with the disease of addiction, and believing that no one understands or can understand your situation. This experience can be so consuming that some have described it as feeling completely alone even in a crowd of people. Sometimes, the negativity you express is so severe that even those close to you may withdraw and keep their distance. And as with other emotions, pain sensations intensify.
Loneliness also is so often a problem for people with chronic pain because the onset of acute pain triggers an automatic response in most people to withdraw and “lick our wounds,” a mechanism believed to have developed to help protect and preserve the species. It was, and at times still is, adaptive to isolate and rest when we are sick or in acute pain. Problems arise because chronic pain appears to stimulate this same desire to isolate, and ongoing long-term isolation ceases being adaptive and becomes a source of imbalance.”
In order to help those with chronic pain avoid this source of imbalance, we’ve compiled a list of tips for overcoming the pull towards social isolation.
1. Join a walking group
Many with chronic pain avoid exercise out of a fear they’ll make the pain worse, when in reality, low-impact, regular exercise can actually help to lessen pain. As Jason Harper, personal trainer at LVRC explained in the blog post Exercises for Chronic Pain, “Exercise has been shown to decrease pain, muscle fatigue, and blood pressure, and increase muscle tone, vascular circulation, and flexibility. It also promotes stronger joints and improves sleep (which allows the body to recover properly).”
By joining a walking group, you’ll be accomplishing two goals at once—you’ll be doing something social while taking productive steps (literally) toward retaking control of your body and reducing or even eliminating chronic pain.
Plus, walking groups attract people from all walks of life (no pun intended), so it’s likely at least one or two of the people in the group may be experiencing back, knee or hip pain as well, and can be a source of empathy and support for those days when you’re in too much agony to make it outside.
If you live in the Las Vegas area, you can try attending a Meetup of the Las Vegas Walkers, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, one of the hiking groups, such as the Las Vegas Overweight Hikers for Health.
2. Host friends at home
There will be days when physical exercise may simply be too painful. When that happens, why not try socializing at home instead? Don’t worry if you can’t handle more than an hour or two, because even just a little quality social interaction can help boost your spirits, which will in turn, decrease pain.
Here are some ideas for events you can host at home:
- Book club
- Game night
- Movie night
- Cooking night
- Chronic pain support group
3. Read a chronic pain memoir
Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” Though books cannot serve as a permanent replacement for human interaction, they can serve as a temporary stand-in for those days when even lifting a book from the nightstand can feel draining. A memoir written by someone who has experienced chronic pain can be especially helpful, as it can make you feel as though you’re not alone in your agony, and that no matter how much it may seem like it, there are people out there who have been in your shoes and can empathize with what you’re experiencing.
Some great books to get you started include:
- The Body Broken: A Memoir – By Deckle Edge
- Battle for Grace: A Memoir of Pain, Redemption and Impossible Love – By Cynthia Tourssaint
- Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain – By Dan Mager
4. Follow chronic pain bloggers on social media
Sometimes just the thought of leaving the house and meeting up with friends can make you feel exhausted, especially when you’ve just spent several days alone—hurting and unhappy. During uninspired moments like these, it can be motivating to sroll through a favorite pain blogger’s Pinterest or Facebook feed. You don’t need to read an entire pain memoir to feel better, as often all you need is a witty meme or inspirational quote—something that tells you that yes, life can be tough and unfair, but you’ll survive it anyway—chin up! And who better to offer that then someone who is currently struggling through the aches and hardships of a chronic illness themselves?
Here are a few bloggers who have chronic diseases who are great to follow on social media (if you haven’t already):
- Christiane Wolf (http://www.christianewolf.com/blog/) – Christiane is a physician who teaches mindfulness and compassion to groups and individuals in Los Angeles and in her native Germany. Her blog and social media offer some great tips on how to meditate and how to manage chronic pain with mindfulness.
- Britt J. Johnson “The Hurt Blogger” (http://www.thehurtblogger.com/) – Britt has had Psoriatic Arthritis since she was a child and was also later diagnosed with Spondyloarthropathy, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Behcet’s Disease as well as chronic complex migraines. Although in 2013, Britt was in so much pain that she couldn’t walk up the flight of stairs to her bedroom, she now completes 6K trail races and is working toward her goal of climbing Mt. McKinley. She’s even spoken about her experience with chronic pain on The TED stage. Her blog, The Hurt Blogger, provides a candid look into what it’s like living with chronic illness—from misdiagnosis and experimental treatments to judgmental medical staff and common pain patient fashion dilemmas.
- Jenni from ChronicBabe.com (http://www.chronicbabe.com/blog/) – Jenni was diagnosed with fibromayalgia, thyroid disease, and several other chronic illnesses, but she hasn’t let those prognoses stand in the way of her accomplishing her dreams. As she states on her website, Jenni’s mission in life is to help people “have an amazing life in spite of illness.” Jenni is a talented writer and her blog covers a wide range of topics related to chronic pain that are both helpful and humorous. Jenni regularly updates her blog several times a month and posts daily updates to Facebook and Twitter.
5. Find a support group
One of the best ways to cure feelings of loneliness is to attend weekly chronic illness support group meetings. After all, no one will be able to empathize with your chronic illness like someone who has a chronic illness him or herself, plus a pain sufferer will understand if you have to cancel at the last moment because of a flare up and won’t view your “I have a migraine” excuse as anything other than the truth. That level of non-judgmental support can be invaluable, especially when you’re fighting the desire to self isolate. Here is a resource you can use to find a chronic pain support group near you as well as a list of chronic pain support groups in the Las Vegas and Henderson area.
6. Create a “chronic pain playlist”
Like books, music can serve as a great ‘substitute friend’ for those days when social interaction proves too challenging.
This eclectic list of songs, which features Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and Sia’s “Titanium”, is a good place to start. Though the songs on that list were chosen because they were inspirational and encouraging in some way, more melancholy songs can help as well. In fact, research has shown that listening to sad songs when you’re feeling down can actually help you feel better. Tearjerkers like Adele’s “Someone Like You”, Radiohead’s “Creep” or Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” can improve your mood because they help you process your emotions while fostering a sense of mutual “sadness sharing” between singer and listener.
7. Meditate and practice mindfulness
Though meditation won’t cure loneliness, it can help reduce chronic pain and boost happiness levels, which is beneficial because when you’re feeling emotionally and physically healthy, you’ll naturally feel more like socializing.
According to Dr. Mel Pohl, pain expert, author of A Day Without Pain, and chief medical officer at Las Vegas Recovery Center, “…when people meditate, they can increase the amount of natural painkillers in their body and stimulate the production of pleasurable chemicals. Meditation can encourage a sense of wellbeing, happiness, connectedness, and wholeness.”
To learn more, read Mindfulness and Meditation: Their Roles in the Chronic Pain Recovery Process.
8. Adopt a pet
Pets can be a wonderful source of non-judgmental comfort when you’re feeling bad and can’t muster the energy to leave the house. A cat or a dog will be perfectly content to snuggle with you on the couch or snooze away in afternoon in bed. And when you do find yourself feeling up for some social interaction, a dog can serve as a great conversation starter during walks in the neighborhood or visits to the park. What’s more, studies have found that pets can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and even reduce depression, which have been known to exasperate symptoms of chronic pain.
- Chronic Pain Quotes: 28 Inspirational Quotes That Can Help You Cope When You’re in Pain
- Depression and Chronic Pain: Causes and Treatment Advice from Dr. Mel Pohl
- Chronic Pain Is Ruining My Life: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Relief
About Las Vegas Recovery Center (LVRC): LVRC is an addiction and chronic pain treatment center located in Southern Nevada. Mel Pohl, MD, DFASAM, an expert in chronic pain and a world-renowned speaker, author and medical professional, developed LVRC’s chronic pain recovery program and is currently LVRC’s chief medical officer. Call to learn more about LVRC’s numerous services, which include drug detox, inpatient/outpatient care, and family and alumni support.