The pain is constant. You kind of remember what it was like before all this happened, but more often than not, those blissful, pain-free days are a distant memory. You’re trying to figure out how to live this way, how to make it work. Some days, you’re successful. But other days, you just want to crawl into bed and never get out.
Life with chronic pain requires many adjustments. Some of them are physical, maybe you can’t do the activities you once loved, but many more are emotional. Surviving with pain requires developing coping mechanisms, adjusting your expectations of what life looks like, and practicing self-acceptance and love in an entirely new way.
The good news is that pain can be a great teacher. Sometimes life’s biggest struggles turn out to bring good things into our lives.
Here are a few ways to live with pain.
1. Practice gratitude
Gratitude is the foundation for a peaceful, happy life. Even if you have pain and health difficulties, there are still things to be grateful for. You have food on your plate, a house to sleep in, clothes on your back, and you’re breathing.
You have a heart that continually beats. It’s powered by electricity and works to flood your body with freshly oxygenated blood. Isn’t that amazing to think about? It turns out that gratitude also promotes heart health, according to research from the American Psychological Association.
Researchers found that patients who experienced asymptomatic heart failure benefited from an improved mood, enhanced sleep, more energy, and less inflammation when practicing gratitude. During the study, researchers followed patients as they wrote in gratitude journals, which is a wonderful way to catalogue all the things going right in life. Study author Paul Mills says:
“It seems that a more grateful heart is indeed a more healthy heart, and that gratitude journaling is an easy way to support cardiac health.”
While journaling is helpful, other options include silently listing three things you’re grateful for upon waking and before going to bed. During the day, try to stay conscious of your thoughts, and if you find yourself entertaining negative ones, try to turn them around.
2. Honor negative emotions
This step may seem to contradict gratitude, but emotional health includes allowing painful emotions room to breathe. Suppressing unhappy emotions is unhealthy, and could even lead to pain.
For example, a prominent doctor named John Sarno gained much publicity with his theory that lower back pain begins from repressed rage.
While it’s important to acknowledge painful emotions, dwelling on these emotions can cause stress, which has been shown to worsen pain. It may be helpful to establish a specific time, perhaps 30 minutes after lunch, as a designated worry period. During this time, allow yourself to journal all the worries and fears you feel. Allow yourself to really feel them.
Many people are scared of confronting these painful emotions, but you can learn a lot about yourself in this process. Feeling angry or sad doesn’t mean you’re not grateful. It just means that you’re going through some tough life circumstances. Painful feelings are natural and completely normal. Encourage good emotional health by feeling them, and then encourage yourself to move on, not clinging to these emotions or the corresponding thought patterns.
3. Accept pain
Chronic pain brings with it many life challenges and changes. It’s a natural reaction to resist the changes and to resist the pain. But the pain is here. It’s real and it’s happening.
Accept it. Resistance to pain will only prevent you from making life changes that could help you.
Learn to inquire into the nature of pain. Maybe it’s sending you a message to slow down, eat better, or put your health first. Maybe you have something to learn from it. Many people find that health problems or pain ends up being their greatest teacher.
In this way, you begin to accept your life as it is. No, this won’t make the pain go away, but it will open the door to the next chapter in your life. Accepting the pain is the first step towards figuring out how to live your best life, even if that’s a life with chronic pain.
Meditation has been shown in many studies to increase people’s pain tolerance, which in turn reduces the experience of pain. It’s also helpful for lowering levels of stress, which in itself can exacerbate pain.
This ancient practice of sitting and breathing is now even considered a treatment for some types of pain. Research done by the American Pain Society found that meditation decreased discomfort for patients with chronic neck pain, reducing so-called “bothersomeness” even more than exercise.
In addition to helping people feel less pain, meditating helps people better cope with its emotional consequences, according to a study completed at the University of Manchester. Researchers found that meditation helps people live more in the moment, which reduces the tendency of the brain to anticipate pain.
5. Educate yourself
Having a chronic illness becomes a full-time job. Unfortunately chronic pain is very common, but that also means there’s a wide array of resources available.
This site has lots of wonderful information about ways to reduce pain. Other sources of information include a website run by the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Self-Help Program, which offers free content in addition to low-cost courses. One course, for example, teaches patients how to create a plan for self-managing pain.
6. Be kind to yourself
You likely can’t operate at the level that you once did, and that’s okay. Do the best you can, and let the rest go.
Being kind to yourself, prioritizing activities so you have the energy and ability to do the things most important to you, these are the key philosophies that will help you better live with pain. You’re not flawed; you’re just a person who’s experiencing some health problems.
This is your life. Live it the best way you know how.
What are your top tips for living with pain?
Image by Mizrak via Flickr