According to the Institute of Medicine at least 100 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic pain, Pain actually serves an important purpose. It alerts us to injuries such as a sprained ankle or burned hand. But chronic pain is a bit different. Most of us get that pain is physical. But, many don’t realize that pain actually has biological, psychological and emotional factors. Chronic pain can cause feelings such as anger, frustration, hopelessness, depression and anxiety.
We never want to ignore pain. We need to determine the cause. But when pain becomes chronic, there are many psychological ways to help manage it. Stress, in particular, can contribute to many health problems and can trigger muscle tension or muscle spasms that may increase your pain.
Psychologists can help you manage the stressors in your life, teach you relaxation techniques, such as meditation, abdominal breathing and encourage appropriate exercises. Some psychologists also practice biofeedback which teaches you how to control certain body functions, including muscle response. Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but good management techniques will help your mind and body and can often lessen your pain.
Here are several other great techniques to help you cope with your chronic pain.
- Stay Active Pain or the fear of pain often keeps people from doing things they enjoy. It is important not to let pain take over your life.
- Know Your Limits Be as active as you can within your physical limitations. But don’t push yourself to do more than you can handle.
- Exercise Check with your physician and discuss how low impact exercise, such as walking, yoga, stretching and swimming can make you feel better. Other treatments such as physical therapy may be prescribed and offer additional help in managing chronic pain.
- Make Social Connections Meet a friend for coffee or a movie. Research shows that people with good social support are more resilient and experience less depression and anxiety. Being with friends and doing interesting things, even having good conversation, really takes your mind off your pain.
- Distract Yourself When you are experiencing pain flare-ups, find ways to distract your mind from it. We know that some people are really good observers of everything going on in their body. Acknowledging the pain and then doing something in spite of the pain, such as watching a movie, taking a walk or call a friend can help you become less aware of chronic pain.
- Don’t Lose Hope Good patient care involves teamwork with you and your treating healthcare professionals. Many psychological treatments can help you manage your pain and think of it differently.
- Follow Prescriptions Carefully If medication is part of your treatment plan, it is important to take them as directed. Please report any side effects of your meds to your physician. It is also important to be very careful when taking pain medication. Many can be addictive. That is one of the reasons that working with a psychologist can help you better manage your chronic pain and develop a routine which encompasses mind-body health to stay on track with your treatment.