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Dealing With Chronic Pain

April 04, 2020

Dealing With Chronic Pain

Pain is a natural, normal aspect of life, and all pain is real.  Some is easily pinpointed, such as acute pain.  This pain occurs as a warning of disease or another threat to the body and it can range from mild to severe, lasting in time from a mere moment to several months.  Examples might include a broken arm or an abscessed tooth.

 

Acute pain is concrete and disappears after treatment, surgery, or the injury has healed. It is important to seek treatment for acute pain; if left untreated, it may lead to a more serious pain condition known as chronic pain.

 

What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain differs from acute pain in the way that pain signals remain active in the nervous system for longer than six months.  Chronic pain impacts daily activities and functioning and can result in emotional and psychological effects as well as physical ones. There are no clearly identifiable causes for chronic pain, as it is very subjective, but nonetheless, still very real. For example, you might be feeling very anxious about an upsetting event.  Your lower back begins to hurt, and you may seek medication.  In this case, anxiety and emotional pain can be capable of triggering physical pain, but that does not invalidate or minimize the very real experience of the physical pain.

More than 100 million Americans are affected by some form of chronic pain from known causes like arthritis or nerve damage; but sometimes the source of pain remains unknown.  Beyond the physically stressful side effects (i.e. tense muscles, limited mobility, sleeplessness, and low energy/fatigue), there are emotional and psychological effects that can occur. Anger, decreased self-esteem, fear of injury, reduced sex drive, and concerns of social isolation are common.  Anxiety and depression are also potential risks of chronic pain, and this emotional response can cycle back and increase physical pain.  In addition to seeking medical care for physical pain and pain management, you also may need assistance with the emotional and psychological struggles you and your family may be experiencing.  

Coping with Chronic Pain

There is hope, and chronic pain does not need to destroy your life.  Here are some strategies to help you or loved ones with the many complexities of chronic pain: 

  • Practice being positive- Emotions can drive our experience with pain: Guilt, fear, anger, loneliness, and helplessness are five emotions that make pain significantly worse.  A helpful solution is to keep refocusing on things that are positive.
    • Focus on what you can do to improve your quality of life, rather than what is outside of your control.
    • Celebrate small improvements when they occur, even in the presence of pain.
    • Forgive yourself if you do have a physical, emotional, or psychological setback. Remind yourself that some days will be better than others.
  • Stay active- Positive thinking becomes easier when you surround yourself with people and activities you enjoy. Relaxing exercises that take your focus off the pain can really make a difference.  Some examples might be completing word puzzles, Pilates or yoga, gardening, playing board games, reading, or listening to music you enjoy. 
  • Increase good habits- By now we all know eating well, getting enough rest and exercising are keys to a healthy lifestyle, but they cannot be overstated. These elements are crucial to positively coping with chronic pain.  In addition, dehydration can aggravate chronic pain symptoms.  Stay well hydrated and avoid sugary and caffeinated beverages as much as possible. 
  • Be informed- There is a definite risk of becoming addicted to prescription pain medication for some people. Pain relievers may be extremely effective, but it’s important to have a conversation with your doctor about whether they are right for you.  In any case, taking medication responsibly is critical. 
  • Set realistic goals- Set goals to improve your daily life function, and seek out professional help if you need assistance with these steps. It is counterproductive if your pain is eradicated but your abilities and productivity worsen.  Many times it is simply unrealistic to eliminate all pain; however, you can improve your quality of life every day.
  • Seek strength in numbers- You are not alone. Finding a support group or seeking guidance from a medical or mental health professional can help you through the journey of chronic pain.  Having a safe place to talk and process through the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of the challenge can prove invaluable.   

While the cause of chronic pain might be unknown or poorly understood, this does not invalidate its severity.  One of the greatest gifts you can give to those dealing with chronic conditions is to listen to and believe them.  Trust they are doing their best to communicate their needs, struggles, and hopes.  Operating with compassion, sensitivity, and a kind sense of humor is essential whether you or a loved one face the immense challenge of chronic pain.     

 

Want to talk to a counselor today about this? 

Call Amplified Life at 800-453-7733 and ask for your “Free 15 Minute Phone Consultation" with one of our licensed counselors. We’ll listen, answer questions you may have, and help you plan next steps.

 

Sources:

https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-pain.aspx

http://theacpa.org/art-of-pain-management