By Michelle Peterson.
Finally, you’ve got a name for the chronic pain you’ve been enduring for months (or maybe years or decades). So now what? After getting the diagnosis, it’s natural for your mind to be spinning with questions, concerns, and, yes, sadness. It helps to remember that whatever your diagnosis, others have walked down this road before you and have found a new normal for themselves. Below are tips to help you move beyond the shock of diagnosis and to safely manage your symptoms.
- First, find a doctor or other medical professional who specializes in your condition and who you’re comfortable with. Ask him or her about treatment options, including alternative therapies and beneficial lifestyle changes. Ask if you can audio record your appointments (or bring along a friend who takes good notes!).
- Become an expert yourself. Learn everything you can about your disease and what activities trigger or relieve symptoms. Advances in chronic pain are happening at a staggering rate, so make it a point to stay informed.
- Focus on changing your lifestyle. You have no control over the diagnosis you’ve been given, but you do have control over how you eat, drink, move, and handle stress. This can have a dramatic effect on your physical and emotional well-being.
- Eating properly can alleviate chronic pain. And conversely, certain foods can make your pain worse. Pain itself as well as certain medications can have a major impact on your nutritional needs. Seek the guidance of a nutritionist who specializes in nutrition and pain.
- For many people, stress relief leads to pain relief. While it might be tempting to turn to alcohol or binge eating to relieve some of your stress, that puts you at risk for some harmful consequences. Rather, explore healthy alternatives such as talk therapy, relaxation techniques, or mindfulness meditation. According to Psychology Today, “Mindfulness meditation has been shown in clinical trials to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent. Accomplished meditators can reduce it by over 90 percent.” Creating a healthy, peaceful home environment complete with a serene meditation space can be invaluable. At your own pace, seek to de-clutter your home, even if it means tackling one closet or one cabinet per month.
- Move your body! When it’s a chore to get out of bed each day, exercise might be the last thing on your mind, but staying active is an essential part of pain management. Moving can hurt, but not moving will hurt even more in the long run. Find an activity you enjoy, whether it’s walking, yoga, Pilates, swimming, tai-chi, or anything that gets you up and moving.
- Develop a support system. You do not need to handle this on your own. Nobody understands you like someone else who lives with your symptoms. Virtual encouragement and information is available online 24/7. Search Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and even Pinterest. If “in person” is more your style, ask your doctor about support groups in your area or check out Meetup.com.
- Be gentle with yourself. At times, you may need to give yourself permission to cancel all plans and do nothing but stay in bed. Don’t feel guilty if you need more sleep than most. Pain is exhausting! Create a positive affirmation or mantra to help you cope on the bad days. As Helen Keller said, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”
- Be safe. Nearly 1.9 million Americans abuse or are dependent on legal opioids. Painkillers are often a necessary part of pain management, but it is essential that you read and carefully follow the directions for using your pain medication. Familiarize yourself with the signs of dependency and addiction.
Remember that you are still you, and you are not alone. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, somewhere between 50 and 100 million adults in the U.S. have chronic pain conditions. That’s a lot of people learning to cope with pain. By following the suggestions above, you can be one those who goes beyond coping. With time, you’ll find a new normal that truly works for you.
Featured Photo credit Unsplash by Kyle