Chronic pain is common. When pain affects every aspect of your life, it can be a challenge to continue to participate in the activities you want to do, control the thoughts you have and even the amount of sleep you get. This is because, in addition to your physical discomfort, pain can affect your mental and emotional health by increasing your stress and frustration, decreasing your motivation and activity levels, and contributing to fatigue.
Your day-to-day life plays a key role in managing pain. The good news is, there are several positive changes you can make to help manage your pain.
• Manage your stress
Stress can cause physical reactions throughout your body, such as your muscles tensing, which can increase your pain levels. With the right tools, you can help better manage your stress levels to avoid these pain cycles.
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The first step is to recognize the source of your stress. What are the things that make you feel stressed? Make a list of these triggers and identify solutions to help you minimize or even eliminate encounters with these triggers.
Breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, imagery, meditation and mindfulness are all helpful techniques to help you relax and lower stress levels. These techniques can help you create a calmer environment and mindset to help you get through the day. Try rating your pain levels on a scale from 1 to 10, then practice one of these relaxation techniques, and rate your pain level afterward. Find out which techniques work best for you and try to implement them in your every day schedule.
• Find a healthy balance of physical activity and rest
Endorphins are “feel-good” chemicals that are produced within our body. They act as natural painkillers. When you increase physical activity, your pain levels may decrease because of endorphins released during exercise. Even just five minutes of activity can help lower stress levels. If you are more active within the day, it will also help prepare your body for sleep.
Sleep is crucial for our bodies because it allows for recovery. Your pain may be interfering with your sleep, so focus on what you can do on a daily basis to ensure that you get a good night’s rest. Some medications may make you drowsier than others, so get to know your medications — know what they’re for, what time to take it and how it affects your body. Try to avoid taking naps throughout the day and keep a consistent sleep schedule.
You have multiple opportunities to manage your chronic pain each and every day. Minimizing stress, increasing physical activity and getting the right amount of rest can go a long way.
Karen Douglas is health education coordinator at Samaritan Health Services. To learn more ways to help manage your chronic pain, Samaritan Health Services offers a free, six-week series called PainWise First Steps. For more information or register for a class, call the Samaritan Health Services Health Education Department at 541-768-6811.