By Cindy Perlin, LCSW.
It’s an American tradition. As the new year approaches, we think about making a commitment to ourselves to make changes that would improve our lives. The most common New Year’s resolutions, according to one poll, are:
- Exercise more (38 per cent)
- Lose weight (33 per cent)
- Eat more healthily (32 per cent)
- Take a more active approach to health (15 per cent)
- Learn new skill or hobby (15 per cent)
- Spend more time on personal wellbeing (12 per cent)
- Spend more time with family and friends (12 per cent)
- Drink less alcohol (12 per cent)
- Stop smoking (9 per cent)
While many people in chronic pain don’t believe there’s much they can do to reduce their pain other than taking pills, in fact there is plenty of scientific evidence that all of the above lifestyle changes can reduce or even eliminate pain. However, the sad fact is that only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually stick to them.
Experts suggest that in order to get New Year’s resolutions to stick, stick to small, achievable goals rather than all or nothing goals. For instance, instead of saying “I will stop eating sugar”, commit to finding some healthier foods that you can start substituting for some of your high sugar foods. Even minor changes can make a big difference in your health and general wellbeing, including pain levels.
Here are some suggestions for achievable goals that can make a big difference in pain levels:
- Make a commitment to start moving more. Most pain, including back and neck pain, fibromyalgia and arthritis, decreases with movement. At first, if you’re not used to moving at all, you might hurt a little more. Remember when you were younger and you used to overdo exercise sometimes and you ached? Then your muscles got stronger from the effort and you were able to do more. Even a small amount of walking, range of motion exercises and/or stretches can make a big difference. Consult a physical therapist or chiropractor if you need guidance. Water exercise classes (available at most YMCAs) or yoga classes are also good options. Exercising with others can help you stay motivated.
- Vow to start eating more fruits and vegetables and healthy fats and less sugar, white flour and processed foods to reduce inflammation and get the nutrients you need to heal.
- Resolve to learn and start practicing a relaxation technique such as meditation, diaphragmatic breathing or guided visualization. Stress changes physiology in ways that exacerbate pain and these techniques can calm your physiology and reduce pain.
- Pledge to keep searching for strategies and treatments that can help reduce your pain and try at least one new treatment this year. Some you might not have tried that can be life changing include biofeedback, energy psychology (emotional freedom technique), low level laser therapy (also known as cold laser therapy), a gluten free diet, medical marijuana or hemp-derived CBD oil, or a PEMF device.
- Make a point of adding more enjoyment to your life. Listen to more of your favorite music, find more stuff to laugh at, spend more time with people you care about (even if that means asking them to come to you if it’s difficult for you to get out), spend more time with or get a pet (cats work well for people who can’t get out much).
- Promise yourself you’ll read at least one book this year that will help you learn to better manage your pain. Here are some suggestions.
A new year is a great time to take stock of our lives and resolve to make changes. We all have the power to make our lives better. January 1 is a great time to start. Or don’t wait and start today!
Happy New Year!
Cindy Perlin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, certified biofeedback practitioner, chronic pain survivor, author of The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments: The Best and Worst Strategies for Becoming Pain Free and the creator of the Alternative Pain Treatment Directory. She is in private practice in the Albany, NY area, where she has been helping people reach their health and wellness goals for over 25 years.