How to Live Well With Chronic Pain: Steps You Can Take Today

From the American Pain Foundation:
By Rebecca Rengo-Kocher, MA, MSW, LCSW, ACSW
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you live with chronic pain. Every day life can be a struggle, seemingly impossible to overcome. You push yourself with every ounce of energy right down to your soul, and it feels like nothing’s there. Simple activities that others take for granted can be a laborious undertaking, like sitting to watch a child or grandchild’s little league game, going grocery shopping or trying to concentrate during a meeting.
It’s especially frustrating when family, friends and even health care providers tell you that you should be feeling better, you’re not trying hard enough, you’re addicted to pain pills or that you’re just a complainer. Exhausted, depressed and hurting, you just want to feel better.
To take back control of your life, stay hopeful. Keep moving forward. Life can be enjoyed and lived well, so start with these basic steps.
You are your first priority. Many people “feel guilty” doing this, but it’s selfish not to. The better you feel, the better you are able to be with those around you. So ask yourself, what makes me feel better, happier and more content with my life? Then make sure to schedule time for what you need every day. Quiet time is a must, whether it’s through meditation, prayer, taking a walk or reading. Sometimes it seems that everything desirable is out of reach. Think of activities you might be able to manage, even on your worst days. Is it a bubble bath, looking at magazines, getting a massage? Take care of your emotional needs, too. Validate yourself and surround yourself with positive, supportive people as much as possible.
Accept where you are right now and whatever feelings you may have. Do not fight against your situation or your feelings. This will only hinder your recovery. Accepting things as they are can bring a feeling of peace. Identify where you are in this moment and how it feels. Just as someone on a diet needs to know his or her starting point, it’s important to pay attention to your starting point each day.
Set reachable, realistic goals. Focus on what you can do now and celebrate every small accomplishment.
Pace yourself! Resist the temptation to overdo on a good day. That can start a downward pain cycle. By pacing yourself, you will gradually increase your good days and begin to feel “more normal.” You’ll start to develop stability.
Don’t minimize your achievements. Feel proud of whatever you can do and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Many times, just making it through the day is a big accomplishment. Give yourself a pat on the back. Encourage and congratulate yourself like you would a best friend.
Use positive self-talk frequently throughout your day. Are you criticizing yourself in your mind? Replace these thoughts with encouragement and kindness. Tell yourself what a good job you are doing. Don’t hold back. Your emotional well-being and state-of-mind have a profound impact on your energy and pain. Lift yourself up.
Think through what is really important. Focus on what makes you feel better. If you are involved in activities or situations that make you feel worse, try to avoid them. If you can’t stop right away, work to limit your involvement and make a plan to stop. You are your own best advocate.
Be empowered. This is your life. Talk to your health care providers about your goals. Write out questions and get information. Keep a file on yourself. Ask for help from others when needed. Join organizations to advocate with others. Face your fears. Stay open to all possibilities, but trust your own judgment. Do what you feel is best for you.
Most importantly, love yourself to help heal. Decide what is right and good for you. Replenish before giving. Take responsibility for meeting your own needs, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Do not feel guilty for needing help with lifting heavy boxes, walking slower, or taking time for yoga, massage or gentle stretching. What may seem like pampering may be what is needed to feel your best. If others don’t understand that is their issue, not yours.
Just implementing one or two of these steps consistently can have a positive, profound effect on decreasing your pain and increasing your energy.
Believe your health and your life can be better. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you take good care of yourself and practice these positive steps, it will make a difference. Your pain is real. How you live with your pain is something you have control over. Start small. Don’t worry about your progress or speed, just keep moving in the right direction. A life with chronic pain can be a life enjoyed and lived well. It starts with one step, and you are not alone.
Rebecca Rengo-Kocher, MA, MSW, LCSW, ACSW, is a coach, psychotherapist, speaker and educator. Rebecca has lived with chronic pain herself for more than 30 years. She was the president of the Missouri Pain Initiative and author of “Beyond Chronic Pain: A get-well guidebook to soothe the body, mind and spirit.” She served as a Power Over Pain Action Network Leader for Missouri.
This article was originally published in APF’s Pain Community News Summer 2007, Volume 7, Issue 3.