Living with chronic pain can be incredibly stressful. The pain itself can be exhausting and make it difficult to complete daily tasks or enjoy activities you once loved. In addition, the uncertainty of not knowing when pain may worsen or how long an episodic flare up may last can cause anxiety about the future. This combination of physical discomfort, frustration, worry and exhaustion from poor sleep creates the perfect recipe for high stress levels. Finding healthy and effective ways to manage stress is crucial for both your mental and physical health when you have a chronic pain condition. Here are some tips to help you cope.
Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing when in pain, but in fact, it can greatly help reduce feelings of stress. Physical activity releases endorphins which are feel-good chemicals that act as natural pain killers. Starting an exercise routine appropriate for your condition can lift your mood, boost your energy, aid sleep, and make living with pain more manageable. Even light activities like walking, stretching or chair yoga count, so start small and work your way up at your own pace. Just be sure to talk to your doctor first about any exercise restrictions.
Activities that quiet your mind and induce relaxation can lower stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This triggers your body’s natural relaxation response, slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure and decreasing muscle tension. Try calming practices like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, visualization, or progressive muscle relaxation. Even taking 5-10 minutes a few times a day to pause and relax can help you reset. Consider getting instruction in these techniques from a class, online program, app or DVD.
When your energy is limited, being strategic about how you expend it is key. Keep a running list of tasks and activities you need to do, and rank them from most to least important. Focus on accomplishing the essential top priorities first before moving down your list as able. Let go of perfectionism and delegate tasks when possible. Eliminating nonessential obligations and learning to say no without guilt can also prevent overload.
Don’t try to cope alone. Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through is invaluable. Locate in-person or online chronic pain support groups you can join to share tips and encouragement. Meet with friends, phone family members or see a counselor to discuss what you’re feeling. Some patients even find emotional support animals helpful for providing warm companionship and unconditional love. Accepting help from loved ones with tasks like cleaning, driving and shopping can also lessen burdens.
Have Fun & Laugh
Make time for enjoyable hobbies, social interactions and entertainment despite your pain. Participate in activities you can still do at the level you’re currently capable of to nourish your spirit. Share laughter and smiles with loved ones as much as possible. Humor goes a long way towards healing stress. Avoid negative people who increase your worries. Surround yourself with individuals who uplift you.
Adopt Healthy Habits
Stress and pain can be exacerbated by unhealthy lifestyles. Eat nutritious anti-inflammatory foods, stay hydrated and limit alcohol intake. Get enough quality sleep by keeping a regular bedtime. Reduce caffeine which can heighten anxiety. Consider nutritional supplements thought to aid pain like turmeric, omega-3s and magnesium. Don’t smoke, and learn techniques to manage your stress effectively rather than take it out on others.
Focus on the aspects of your life that are going well and things that give you joy. Count your blessings, express gratitude and look for the good even during difficult times. Reflect on past challenges you’ve overcome. Set meaningful goals you can achieve. Believe you can manage your condition and lead a fulfilling life, even if some days are better than others. Have faith your efforts to cope will benefit your health and wellbeing.
Though painful conditions inevitably bring stress, implementing healthy lifestyle habits and stress-reduction practices can help restore calm. Be patient with yourself, and don’t hesitate to seek extra support if needed. With some trial and error, you’ll find the coping strategies that work best to create more ease in your daily life.