The good news if you’re reading this blog is that although you have chronic pain, you are taking active steps to help manage it. Perhaps you haven’t been as successful as you would have liked, but 2015 is your year to make lasting changes.
Making healthy lifestyle choices such as eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising more, and quitting smoking can do wonders for reducing pain and improving overall wellbeing.
Keep in mind that a total lifestyle overhaul isn’t required to reap the benefits of healthier choices. If you smoke, eat a lot of processed foods, and don’t exercise, consider focusing your powers of change on one of those behaviors at a time, preferably the one you most associate with increased pain.
Thinking back over 2014, is there one habit or lifestyle factor that consistently leads to worsened pain? Some people may find stress exacerbates pain while others may identify diet. Homing in on that trigger, use the memory of pain to fuel the desire to feel better and make positive changes, no matter how difficult they may be. Your life is a collection of habits, and the good news is they can change for the better.
Let’s look at these three areas in a little more detail.
Food, along with physical activity, is one of the most important areas to focus on for minimizing pain. Yet it’s also a common area for people to experience difficulty when making changes.
Changing your diet can seem overwhelming, so consider starting small, resolving to change a specific area.
For example, maybe instead of beginning by subtracting foods, you begin by adding them. A healthy New Year’s resolution might be to eat three servings of vegetables each day. A typical spaghetti dinner becomes a little healthier with the addition of squash, spinach, and broccoli.
Another area to consider focusing on is sugar. Sweets mark a weak spot for many people, but high sugar intake leads to weight gain and inflammation, which can exacerbate chronic pain.
Can you designate one or two days a week a sugar-free zone? Instead of your normal snack of chips or chocolate, substitute nuts and dried fruit.
Another diet-related resolution might be to find out which foods trigger pain. Some people have sensitivities to certain foods, such as gluten or nightshade vegetables. At the start of the year, you might resolve to do an elimination diet, selecting a particular food and abstaining from it for a few weeks to see if it impacts your pain levels.
If you uncover a food that results in pain, the next step would be to permanently eliminate it.
Ask anyone in the fitness industry and they’ll tell you how their classes are full the first week in January and then, over the course of the year, they thin out as people give up the habit of health.
The key to continuously exercising is to find at least one activity you enjoy and that won’t become boring or stressful. If you’re not sure what activity that might be for you, a New Year’s resolution might be to try a new fitness activity once a week until you land on the one or two or three you love.
Try running or yoga, Pilates or Zumba. Then there’s tennis, hiking, biking, and the good ol’ elliptical at the gym. No time to drive anywhere? The Internet age has simplified working out. Websites like Grokker, FitnessBlender, Yogaglo, and Daily Burn offer streaming fitness videos, some free and others with a low monthly charge. YouTube even offers a variety of free workouts.
If you already have an idea of the activities you like, consider identifying three days a week to exercise. Designate a time in your calendar and treat it like any other important meeting that you must attend. Feel free to focus on one activity you love or switch it up and workout a variety of ways.
Many people start off with the idea of exercising every day, but that quickly becomes cumbersome for those who are unaccustomed to working out. Feel free to go slowly. No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everyone who hasn’t started yet.
3. Stop smoking
We all know cigarettes are unhealthy, but that doesn’t make it any easier to quit. In addition to the physical addiction, many people have the psychological addiction. Smoking becomes a habit that’s turned to in times or stress or simply after a meal.
But you can quit smoking! Different methods work for different people. Some people find the only way to quit is cold turkey while others need to taper off, or even use a nicotine patch while weaning themselves off cigarettes. The National Institutes of Health recommends a specific process for quitting:
Pick a quit date about two weeks in the future.
Establishing a date helps you mentally prepare. Pick a time that doesn’t involve extra life stressors, such as a big project or additional life responsibilities. Circle the date on your calendar and get ready.
In the meantime, every time you inhale the smoke from the cigarette, imagine how the toxic vapors are infiltrating your lungs, blackening them and making you cough or making it hard to breathe. The visualizations can come in handy later on when you’re trying to make it through a craving.
Tell your family and friends you’re quitting.
Telling your loved ones of your plans to quit makes the decision more real. You’ll also be able to call on them if you need help through an urge for nicotine. It will pass. You can do it!
Think about the times you’re most likely to smoke and develop a plan for avoiding cigarettes. If you tend to smoke after meals, consider chewing a piece of gum or going for a walk instead. If you smoke when you’re stressed, another walk might be good, feeling the fresh air cleanse your lungs.
If it’s helpful, when the thought to smoke arises, think about the toxic vapors and how they used to pour into your lungs, turning them black. Then, again turn your attention to your breath, feeling it move freely through your lungs as they regenerate because you are choosing health over smoking.
What are your New Year’s resolutions to reduce pain in 2015?
Image by Robert Bejil via Flickr