6 Coping Mechanisms to Help Manage Your Chronic Pain
By Dr. Paul Le
At Advanced Pain Care, we understand that wellness is not just physical.
It’s imperative to prioritize your mental health just as much as we do your physical health. We hope that the following six coping mechanisms for chronic pain will help you manage your pain more effectively, improve the impact of your physical treatments, and ultimately help you find a complete state of wellbeing.
The Three Components Of An Effective Chronic Pain Treatment
Treating chronic pain is like balancing on three legs—without one of the legs, you risk reducing the efficacy of your plan of care through:
- Mechanics: The treatments such as injections and surgeries that bring physical relief.
- Medication: The prescriptions that block the effects of chronic pain.
- Psychology: Therapies that focus on the mental and emotional impacts of chronic pain.
Though well being is a balance of physical, mental, and emotional health, many chronic pain patients tend to prioritize mechanical treatments and medications since these therapies have the potential to significantly reduce or eliminate the pain that prevents them from living a life of normalcy.
In other words, surgery, injections, and pills offer tangible results that patients crave, and as a result, the mental component of chronic pain often goes untreated.
Yet, nobody can deny the tremendous impact that dealing with chronic pain can have on mental and emotional wellbeing. Research shows that the majority of chronic pain patients suffer from depression and anxiety, which increases pain levels and the incidence of flare-ups.
Most clinics and patients focus on treating the physical symptoms of chronic pain and often forget about the crucial cognitive components that need to be addressed for effective treatment. As a result, 70-90% of chronic pain patients suffer from poor coping tips, but by offering education and professional psychiatric support in our clinic, we hope to reduce that statistic dramatically.
1. Recognize Your Triggers
Living with chronic pain inevitably means that some days will be better than others, even when you’re following a treatment plan.
Flare-ups can be triggered by factors out of your control, such as a catastrophe or even a bone-chilling wind. Some of these triggers are experienced by many chronic pain patients, whereas some are more individualized.
To effectively learn how to manage your chronic pain, you have to identify your emotional and physical triggers.
For instance, if you are prone to anxiety or are easily stressed, these emotions can increase unwanted flare-ups. However, by raising awareness and learning how to control these emotional triggers, you can effectively reduce pain levels.
On the other hand, your pain may be triggered by mechanical stress and physical limitations. For example, you may have a bad back but are high-functioning. However, if you move a piano, you may potentially be putting yourself in a situation where you risk triggering intense pain. Setting your physical limitations and boundaries ensures that you don’t trigger more severe pain, and is especially crucial for the people who tend to push their body to its limitations.
2. Find Ways You Love To Relax
Historically anxiety, depression, and stress all increase pain levels since these emotions cause a cascade of hormones and chemicals that increase muscle tension and inflammation.
Chronic stress is a secret killer for everybody. However, chronic pain patients are more at risk, which means they must consistently utilize stress management techniques. The patients that do so will not only find that they can reduce their pain levels, but also improve their resilience under the pressure that would typically trigger the onset of a flare-up.
Related: 3 Ways to Treat Chronic Back Pain Without Surgery
When I talk to patients in the clinic, I ask them this series of questions:
- What relaxes you the most?
- What makes you peaceful?
- If you could be doing anything else right now, what would you be doing?
Ask yourself the same questions so you can draw on things that naturally reduce stress and anxiety when your pain levels feel out of control.
While stress management and relaxation are extremely personal, there are proven methods that we highly recommend you incorporate, such as meditation and deep breathing. Both practices are scientifically shown to naturally trigger the body’s relaxation mechanisms and turn-off the stress response. This allows your body to return to a calm state and prevents further damage from the physical and mental effects of stress.
3. Fill Your Time
Undoubtedly, that chronic pain can rob you of your career and force you into early retirement, as our patient Saundra H. described in her journey with chronic pain. We also recognize that life-debilitating pain can chain you to your bed, as it did to our founder Dr. Malone before he got a spinal stimulator.
If you can fill your day with a mild routine, then we recommend that you do so. Activity reduces the likelihood that you’ll gradually do less and less while reducing painful stiffness and boredom. Plus, activity is a good distractor and can help take your mind off the pain and directly lower your pain score.
The bottom line is to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
4. Lean On A Support Group
Living with chronic pain can be incredibly isolating, and a support group can offer connection, compassion, and understanding during your journey. By talking to a community of like-minded individuals, you can vent frustrations and alleviate tensions that we naturally tend to hold in.
In a support group, you’re in a space where people can deeply understand and relate to your experiences. Vicariously they can help you process difficult emotions while uncovering potential pain-relieving techniques and treatments that may help you.
We offer a support group called “Walk With a Doc,” an outreach program that’s designed to connect you to a community while informing you with current health care information from one of our providers. The group is a great way to get out and stay active, all while enjoying the benefits of social connection.
Update: Due to COVID, all 2020 walks are suspended until further notice.
Related: Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, and Use Telemedicine to Manage Your Chronic Pain During COVID
5. Practice Acceptance
Unfortunately, as a victim of chronic pain, you are not like everyone else, and you have to treat your life as such. You have to accept and adapt to your triggers so that you can cope and function. Pain acceptance reduces cognitive dissonance and psychological stress, which improve physical function and mental wellbeing in many cases.
With acceptance comes the realization that it’s vital to invest more time into giving yourself the self-care, love, and respect you deserve.
For you, this may come in the form of honoring breaks, being gentle with yourself, or taking activities slower. You may also invest more time into massages, baths, yoga, meditation, and friends to help you reduce pain intensity and improve your quality of life.
6. Seek Professional Help—You’re Not Alone
Up to 90% of patients that have chronic pain fit into the diagnoses of clinical depression and anxiety, yet go untreated. In other words, they’re not seeing a licensed psychiatrist that can help them professionally process and manage their emotions, thoughts, and experiences.
Though these coping mechanisms are powerful, there is a point where seeking professional medical treatment can help you problem-solve and change behavior patterns that are exacerbating your symptoms.
Chronic pain is a multi-faceted condition that requires a multi-faceted plan of care.
From experience, we know that cognitive therapy is an effective and underleveraged pain management technique that can greatly reduce the suffering you may feel.
We pride ourselves on being a multi-modal clinic that provides you with not only pain management specialists but also licensed psychologists to help you treat the mental and emotional side effects of pain.
Reach out to our 24/7 live chat to learn more or book an appointment to speak to one of our on-site licensed therapists to dive deeper into a personalized coping mechanism for your pain.