Chronic pain can be debilitating to a person. Chronic pain is pain that continues even after your body heals. Chronic pain happens because your brain continues to produce pain although there are no physical explanations for the pain. The reason for such pain is that our highly sensitive nervous system continues to react in the absence of a painful stimulus. This is in comparison to acute pain, which is produced when our tissues are damaged (e.g. when you stub your toe on a nail) and is an adaptive mechanism that helps us stay safe (your pain will quickly cause you to remove your toe from the nail).
Chronic pain can be extremely challenging to manage. Your doctor may provide you with strong medications with their own list of side effects and/or you may be referred to see a physiotherapist to help you with exercises that could reduce your pain. There are many other strategies for chronic pain management, such as applying ice or heat, body creams, electrical stimulation and surgery.
It can be very frustrating if your pain is not well-managed, especially if you’ve tried many strategies to reduce it. Chronic pain is closely associated with psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety. Other than ensuring that you are getting enough rest, staying active and eating and sleeping well, it is also important to focus on your thoughts and emotions if you are experiencing chronic pain. There is research to show that how you think about your pain can change how your pain in turn affects you. Here are some positive ways to approach chronic pain:
- Acknowledge how you feel. Chronic pain can leave you feeling fed up, exhausted and frustrated. Instead of trying to avoid these feelings, acknowledge that your pain and illness is difficult to live with and that it’s normal to feel down about it.
- Surround yourself with people that get you. Be around people that will empathize with you, rather than telling you to “be strong and get over it”. Surround yourself with people that will tell you, instead, that it’s understandable to feel low in the face of such difficult pain and that they will support you through your illness.
- Immerse yourself in things you enjoy. Whether it’s listening to music, watching a movie or painting, when the pain gets to you, try to engage in something pleasant which will get your mind off of it.
- Don’t worry about what others think. You might feel self-conscious about your illness and wonder what people around you might be thinking. Pain isn’t a visible condition like some other illnesses, but it is just as real! So, instead of spending your precious energy thinking about how others perceive you, use it to take good care of yourself.
- Ask for help when you need it. You may be used to being independent with your day to day activities. However, know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In reaching out to your support system for assistance, you are being kind to yourself.
So, if you are suffering from chronic pain, try to retrain your mind to think constructively through your pain. The way you perceive your pain can actually change the way your pain ends up affecting you, ultimately helping to improve your quality of life in spite of your illness. There are also many self-help websites and books dedicated to chronic pain management as well as mental health professional trained in the area who may be able to assist you further.