Tip 1: KNOW YOUR COMMITTEE
Form a committe of the most trusted and supportive people in your life.
Who can you turn to, count on when times get tough? Who has always been there for you? Who in your life (now or in the past) loves you absolutely and unconditionally? Keep in close touch with these people, as they make up your support committee (1).
Interestingly, people on your committee can even be people who have passed on. My maternal grandmother was always very supportive of me growing up. When I feel down, I recall the positive things she said about me. I can hear her wonderful words in my head, “You know you could do that if you really wanted to.” And I feel empowered today as much as I did when she said those words back in my childhood.
You don’t have to personally know the people on your committee. Ralph Waldo Emerson is on my committee, because I find his words encouraging.
Persons of faith, your favorite aunt, your best friend from high school, and of course, your partner. All of these people can be on your committee. Keep them on your speed dial, and when things get really hard, call on them, and let them know they can do the same with you. So, get busy, forming your committee!
Tip 2: EXERCISE
Exercise is crucial for improving chronic pain. It’s a vicious cycle. It hurts to move, so you don’t exercise. This causes weight gain, and more stress and fatigue on your body when you do try to get moving.
Lack of exercise causes loss of muscle tone and muscle mass. Bones lose calcium at an increased rate if there is no pressure placed on bones at regular intervals. Research shows that inactivity is hazardous to your health.
Consult an expert, specific to your pain type and location, about strengthening, aerobic, and stretching exercises. Even small and brief exercises can help. Just make a start.
Scientists have proven that exercise releases endorphins, brain chemicals that make you feel good. And exercise will help you sleep.
The key with exercise is to start out slow, and gradually build up both the intensity and the duration of exercise. Be very careful not to overdo, as this can cause a setback that is hard to overcome, both physically and emotionally.
Tip 3: GET A GOOD NIGHTS SLEEP
This is equally important as exercise. Lack of sleep and subsequent fatigue can worsen pain and depression, cause irritability and poor interactions with the people in your life, and can contribute to a host of health issues and illnesses.
You MUST sleep well, even if occasionally you must take sleep aids. (*Ask your doctor before taking any new medication, even over the counter sleep aids. They may interact dangerously with your pain medications.)
Try other measures first. Exercise, a hot bath, a cool dark room, a comfy bed and pillow, soft sheets. Soothing music. Exchange a backrub with your partner. Be creative! Think about what is soothing to you, and add it to your nightly bedtime routine.
If you don’t sleep well, lighten up on the next day’s stresses and activities. Squeeze in a 15 minute nap.
Tip 4: EAT WELL
You know by now what is a healthy diet. It is okay to cheat sometimes, but aim to have a good diet on most days. Despite what the FDA food pyramid says, limit carbohydrate intake to fruits and raw veggies as much as possible. Eat healthy sources of protien, like low fat meats, chicken breasts, beans, tofu, and fish. Limit bread and dessert intake to once per week.
If you are overweight, talk to a nutritionist about how you can improve your diet. Weight loss will improve most types of pain, especially arthritis and back pain.
Tip 5: AVOID SELF-ADMINISTERED TOXINS
Avoid toxic people, who are negative, judgemental, and bring you down, or show a lack compassion for your condition. Replace them with people on your support committee. See Tip 1, above.
Oust your internal critics as well.(1) The internal critics who say you are inadequate, you have nothing of value to offer in your condition, and you have pain because you did something to deserve it. No one deserves pain, and you have much to offer the world, just as you are.
Avoid the toxins of sugar and junk food, for obvious reasons.
Alcohol disrupts sleep, adds calories and causes weight gain, and it WILL interact dangerously with your pain medications.
Quit smoking. Enough said.
Tip 6: USE DISTRACTION
Distraction is an effective tool to combat many of the negative effects of pain. Distraction with valued activities adds to self esteem and reduces depression. It takes your mind off the pain for a while, giving you an emotional boost. Do the things you enjoy, within your limitations.
Plan ahead for activities, and allow yourself extra time. Keep busy: this is a known deterrent to depression.
Tip 7: USE RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
Meditation, deep breathing, yoga or pilates, and mindfulness. Relaxation is different for everyone. Make a list of what relaxes you, and have your partner make a list too. See which ones you have in common.
Tip 8: GET EDUCATED
Read up on your pain condition, causes, treatments, the latest research. Know all about your medications. Find resources online. Keep a list of questions to ask your health care providers on your next visit. A trip to the library can be informative and uplifting, too.
Tip 10: KNOW YOURSELF
Know your limitations, but also keep your eye on your talents and abilities and know what lifts you up and out of a slump.
Keep a journal. Remind yourself daily, each day is a gift, and know how you want to use it to the fullest.