As someone living with systemic Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) and other chronic illnesses, I know first-hand what it means to live in chronic pain. Waking each day with the first thought being the pain ― how severe it is, and whether or not I will be able to do as planned, no matter how necessary or crucial ― requires such unseen strength.
Those of us living with chronic pain are often unable to predict the ebbs and flows of the pain, and our ability to cope with it also fluctuates. But finding ways to enjoy the ‘better’ days and be as self-supportive on the bad days, is an essential part of living a happy life.
Much of coping with my chronic pain lies in reacting to its challenges. Response to the pain, the limitations, the losses, the ongoing grief, the support (or lack thereof) is what shapes the outcome of each situation. Living well means finding positivity despite the pain. Here are six methods to try:
1. Challenge Negative Thoughts
While it’s most natural to feel frustrated and uncertain, negative thoughts never provide a solution. In fact, the cynical ideas can be just as ceaseless as the pain, and by allowing our minds to engage with them, we intensify the agony.
By challenging the way we think about pain, we can gain control over the damaging thoughts. Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now wrote, “Much suffering, much unhappiness, arises when you take each thought that comes into your head as the truth.” And so, by testing our ideas for truth, we can combat the complex, negative thinking that comes with the pain:
1. Is this thought true?2. Does thinking about this provide a solution or does it make me more upset?3. What would I say to a friend in this situation?
Answering these questions helps to create psychological distance, and see what we’re telling ourselves from a new perspective, thus halting one damaging thought from turning into a depressing cycle.
2. Separate Yourself From Damaging Ideas
It’s also helpful to frame negative ideas as a story, for instance, “here’s the ‘I’m never going to improve’ ‘story’ again”. Allowing the thought to exist as a story helps redirect your focus, and you can avoid becoming caught up with the unhealthy idea. This separation is empowering, and if you feel stronger emotionally, you are better equipped to handle daily challenges. You may also see positives with more ease; now that those distressing thoughts less obscure your view.
3. Do Some Version Of What You Love
For someone with chronic pain so much energy is dedicated to managing and recovering from the symptoms, which can leave little time for everything else. Doing what you love, even a modified version, can increase positive emotions and create new hope, passion and purpose ― all of which can be so easily lost in pain. Having something to look forward to, or work towards, can be nourishing.
Find what makes your soul sing, despite your limitations, and allow yourself to indulge. Maybe it’s a candlelit bath and a good book, or a weekly night out with your closest friends. Either way, this shift prevents you from focussing on what you cannot do and creates the chance to actualize activities that soothe your being.
4. Connect With Other Chronic Pain Sufferers
Pain is already incredibly isolating. Even in company, it creates an invisible divide. But, by connecting with another who comprehends this vast and trepidatious landscape can make you both feel better, and in turn a little happier too. Receiving support and, equally as important, mirroring that support and understanding can be especially healing.
5. Find Pockets Of Joy
Though they may be small or fleeting, finding or recognizing moments of happiness can add up in the same way a series of small negative thoughts can create a ‘bad day.’
Find those moments. Return to them. Pause, and allow your mind rest in that joy. It could be as simple as the beauty of a flower, or something less tangible like a happy memory or the last thing that made you laugh, for example. Noticing and savoring these positives distracts and calms you, and also has long-term brain benefits. The action creates healthy neuroplasticity that enables you to default to the positive emotion with more ease.
6. Practice Self-Compassion
Harsh self-judgement is perhaps the worst mistake a chronic pain sufferer makes ― we would never speak to another in the same way we criticize ourselves.
Recognize that each time you notice harsh self-criticism, that it is a moment of awareness, of healing, of self-compassion in itself. Expressing complicated feelings through art or writing can be helpful. Finding freedom between understandably angry reactions, and gentler, more supportive thoughts, creates conditions for your life to improve. Be patient with your feelings, be kind and compassionate to yourself and remember that even in the toughest times, your perspective can shift.
Living with chronic pain is both mentally and physically taxing. Fortunately, Walgreens is a trusted expert in physical chronic pain solutions, so you can refocus your head space on living your best life. Visit your local Walgreens to learn more about options available for chronic pain management.