Learning to Manage Stress While Living with Chronic Pain

Learning to Manage Stress While Living with Chronic Pain

By Ellen Lenox Smith.

“When Life Gives you a Hundred Reasons to Cry,

Show Life that you have a Thousand Reasons to Smile”

- Author unknown

We all live with various levels of stress. Stress creates the perfect breeding ground for intense emotional anxiety. Stress cannot be eliminated from our lives but to a degree stress can be managed in a manner which serves to reduce anxiety. Anxiety can be brought on in so many ways in our everyday lives whether brought on when you are stuck in traffic and late for an important appointment, when you lock yourself out of your car or house, accidently bump into another car, have a sick loved one, waiting for a booked surgery, a house fire, house flooding, etc. So many things in life are just out of our control so we have to learn how to “go with the flow” and move past the stress brought on by so many unforeseen events seemingly beyond our control. This sounds easy, but we all know it is a challenge to take on. For those of us living with chronic pain our natural capacity to confront and deal with stress may be compromised. For those of us experiencing pain on a daily basis, a conscious effort must be made to develop techniques and lifestyles which can contribute to a reduction in our stress levels and thus minimize the resulting anxiety.

So, what can we do to try to reduce stress in our daily lives? Can we identify individuals or situations which create stress in our lives? Are we able to develop methods and techniques to manage our lives in order to avoid stress producing situations?

  • Avoid judgmental people whenever possible, even when it happens to be your family members. You must stay as healthy as possible and the stress others can bring into our lives is harmful to your health. If someone is ranting on and miserable, then find a way to step away. Seek the company of those individuals not consumed by anger and frustration. There is a difference between those pain patients who periodically need to vent and those that are attempting to find happiness in new and perhaps creative ways despite the challenges their physical condition presents. Seek out these individuals.
  • Find passion in life that you are able to achieve, despite your condition, passion can lead to a sense of purpose.  We all experience losses living with chronic pain and have to learn to leave behind those things no longer possible and discover those things that we can achieve new accomplishments no matter how small can produce a sense of happiness and new meaning in your life.
  • Try to stay active - move your body and try not be sedentary, if possible. I have found on those days that I wonder why I am even attempting to work out, that in time, I realize I am feeling more positive and happy by doing just that. I grew up with a mom that believed a regular exercise routine was not necessary since she cleaned the house and considered that her exercise. Although that is moving the body, it is not as helpful as it is to set up a routine of manageable physical exercise dedicated to supporting your body and your mind.
  • Eat as well as you can and stay away from any food sensitivities, when you can. By working on avoiding processed foods, too much sugar and carbs, you will actually find you will get more energy to enjoy your day with this healthy nutrition. Fresh food is priceless to add to life, free of pesticides and eaten soon after harvesting. Maybe you could even enjoy a garden for an activity that would produce healthy food.
  • Identify and avoid medications you are not able to metabolize - this can be determined by a DNA drug sensitivity test. Many do not realize that just because a doctor ordered you new medication, it may not be compatible with your particular body chemistry. Notice how you feel taking it and if you notice negative changes, then talk with them about this and consider an alternative.
  • Remember that rest is key - if you are not sleeping well at night, the next day will feel overwhelming. There are various ways to achieve this, so have that conversation with your doctor to see if you can find an effective remedy for your sleep issues.
  • Take a moment each day to run through your mind what you are grateful for, despite your pain and losses. There are still things that can make you smile, people that still care along with reminding ourselves that not all is lost in our lives. I have learned to take a moment each morning to look out the window and run through what I do have that I am grateful for.  The emotional trauma of loss and the challenge of daily pain can prove overwhelming at times but it is critical for individuals afflicted with chronic conditions to work on finding the good in our lives placing as much energy as possible in focusing on the positive aspects of our live.
  • Mourn your losses, for losing the strength and ability to do what you could once do before is heartbreaking. Also, it is a daily reminder that life took a turn you had not asked for, expected, or wanted. But after you give yourself time to accept and try to learn to accept these changes, you need to then move forward and live life as this new person.
  • Try to redefine the new you as you live this life differently than before. We need to like who we are and search for that redefined you despite the losses you are having. Life will not return to what it was before but this is the only life you get, so you want to find a way to accept the changes and move on.
  • Surround yourself with as much beauty as you can. If we aren’t growing flowers, then I try to buy some to have in the house to cheer me up and remind me of the beauty of life around me. So, what makes you smile? Flowers, a bright color in a room, quiet music?
  • Try to avoid negative news. When teaching, I use to challenge my students to go out in the world and report on the good that is around us. So many articles, TV news and radio stations relate to the negative in life. Why do we set ourselves up like this? My favorite part of the news is called “Making a Difference” where they share one positive story. Imagine if we had a news station that only dedicated their reports to positive things people are doing in life, all the time? That would help us all feel better about life around us and in time, others would want to emulate the good to get the attention, instead of the negative reports that seem to encourage others in the wrong direction.
  • Try to get on top of your pain. When you are in pain, the stress levels can get out of control. Our bodies metabolize differently so try to find medication that is compatible to you! You will find that if you are able to wake up from a decent sleep, whatever the next day brings will be tackled with more calm and clear thinking.

Life is not easy for anyone. We easily tend to look at someone else and think they are so much luckier than we are, but are they? We all have to face issues in life and it is not always easy to compare or even know what others are also trying to cope with. All people face emotional trauma in their lives. The only difference is in the degree and intensity of the trauma. How we chose to handle our personal and unique challenges seems to be a key in helping us unlock ways to achieve less stress and discover more happiness. Adding the challenge of living with a chronic condition certainly makes this even more of an issue and adds complications no one wants to have to deal with. Whatever you are learning to live with, see if you can identify and possibly relieve stress that is possibly in your control. And for all the things that come our way that we can’t control, I wish you strength learning to address the issues to cope with your life.

Life is Like a Camera

Focus on what’s important

Capture the good times

Develop from the negatives                       

And if things don’t work out,

Take another shot

Author: Ziad K Abdelnar; from Economic Warfare Secrets of Wealth       

Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics

May life be kind to you,

Ellen Lenox Smith

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website. https://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/

Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain- And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.

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Authored by: Ellen Lenox Smith

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website. https://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/

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I also try to keep things in perspective. Sometimes that takes some crying, talking it out with others, journaling, distance between me and the stressful event/person, sleeping on it… whatever. What I really have to do is focus on not letting things “snowball” where it seems like a string of negative unrelated events are overwhelming me… (thinking “Just my luck, lately!” is a clue that I need to slow down). If I write about my problems or talk them out, I start seeing them as separate issues that I can address with different solutions and maybe with less urgency.

Sometimes my thought process makes things more difficult to cope with. Sometimes my emotions blur out a path forward. Sometimes once I can settle my thoughts and emotions, I can start to problem-solve. I can look for support and resources to help me be successful, too. Sometimes I have to rely on myself to fix things but other people may have “been there before” and may be thinking far more clearly now than I am.

Journaling and “phone a friend” (my mom) help me do most of my mental processing so that I can figure out what the next step is.

My parents had a house fire. I watched two different coping styles. My father worked more and more hours to escape thoughts of what happened. My mother talked to insurance companies and asked me to help and put one foot in front of the other… She even dug through the ashes of the house, literally. She managed to salvage some meaningful and important items - including her wedding album that had been protected by being inside of a closet. After the fire, my father will talk to strangers and tell them his life story with all the milestones of when they were in a flood, when he was on jury duty, when they had the housefire, when my mom was in a coma (kidney failure)… It started after the housefire, and it’s like he’s “stuck.” I worry about him, as he doesn’t handle stress. He would rather not think about it, procrastinate, not plan ahead (which has led to crisis situations that could have been avoided).

I find this post relevant because we come with an added burden of pain and other symptoms (which are aggravated by stress, too). Stress reduction doesn’t make pain go away, but we need to be deliberate about stress and strong emotion moreso than healthy people, because of how we are impacted by their effects. Every day is an EXTRA challenge for us, so I’m glad to try to prepare myself with tools that get me through tough times.


I’ve recently taken up meditation. I do it before work in the morning and I am able to calmly handle co-workers who can be antagonistic and who forget we’re supposed to be on the same team. (Same “stuff” different day kind of thing).

I meditate before doctor appointments and I find myself able to put words together in more meaningful ways that have worked in my favor as far as treatment outcomes. It got put to the test one day when a nurse came in and told me that a pituitary cyst was “gone” when I had a copy of my MRI report that said otherwise. She had to leave the room for 10 minutes to talk to the doctor. Meanwhile, I’m quietly wondering if I will need a repeat of the surgery I had for the cyst 10 years ago. I quieted my mind as I had in the waiting room, and managed to ask the questions I needed to ask rather than sitting and going around in circles as to whether this was a simple error or if it was an attempt at paternalism (which is a legitimate concern based on past experience re: not having been told I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia but instead being told I was “just depressed.”)

It does change my reactions in potentially emotional situations, and it kind of helps me set my alarm/distress/anger/frustration/fear/sadness or whatever aside at moments when they are unhelpful. I can process those feelings later if I do need to… I don’t find it useful to bottle up my emotions but they sure can get in the way of me communicating my needs and they can lead to regrets later on.

It was because of how a group of physicians treated me that I began meditating. I now have reluctance to see new doctors… and even doctors that I know I have good relationships with. My blood pressure at my last appointment was 150-something over 90-something. It was a routine appointment. Doctors have had a very positive impact on my care. Certain doctors have damaged my trust and expectations and have caused me distress that continues to impact me in negative ways. I’ve heard others talk about PTSD caused by doctors. I believe this is an issue that ought to be explored and addressed so that fewer patients are harmed.


Thank you Ellen for your great article. I needed to be reminded of all your points you shared. I live with many pain-maker, not much available to help, and do not know the cause illnesses . Living with chronic pain is not understood by others, even family members, who have never experienced it themselves.
I plan to keep your article nearby to refer to whenever I feel down and when letting my pain take control over me.
Thank you for sharing

SUSAN, Arkansas

Sharon C.

I have no difficulty identifying the source of my stress. And all of your platitudes won’t alleviate it one iota. You have some sort of misguided idea that pain can be whisked away if I just wish hard enough. Maybe Mr. Spock could control his pain and the resulting stress, but I am no Mr. Spock. I require opioid drugs to numb the pain of my CRPS. And my stress is a direct result of having to walk on eggshells, in fear that my pain doctor will refuse to write anymore prescriptions, or that they’ll toss me out on the street like so much garbage because I don’t generate enough income for their practice. You need to get real, or stop wasting my time.

Denise Bault

What a terrific article! Very uplifting for days that aren’t. Thank you!

Sorry, but…*ARGH*

Some of the recommendations are sensible & useful, but a few range from eye-rolling to infuriating. Under the former is the last: “Try to get on top of your pain…Our bodies metabolize differently so try to find medication that is compatible to you!” Gee, what a great idea -why didn’t we think of that? Oh -we can’t! Hundreds of thousands (& more every day) do not have the option of obtaining the medications that get on top of their pain or of trying different meds to find the most effective. This manufactured, propagandist “crisis” has been tailored to ensure that legitimate, law-abiding pain patients can NOT get on top of their pain, and that surgical patients & the dying get to experience undreamed of levels of untreated agony. None of this is going to do one tiny thing to deal with the ODs from illegal drugs, but facts are not remotely a part of this campaign.

Handing out cutesy platitudes like “When Life Gives you a Hundred Reasons to Cry, Show Life that you have a Thousand Reasons to Smile” is beyond insulting & enraging to people who are having their lives deliberately, systematically destroyed. We’ll make frigging lemonade when we’re allowed access to the legal, doctor-monitored medications that modern science created to relieve pain, that we’ve been using responsibly & safely for decades.


Legalizing medical marijuana is a good thing But since they butchered it we cannot smoke it we can grow it which takes God I don’t know how long where do you get the seats how do you get the seats to grow your own There has got to be something to help me since they cat the pain meds down I was really really looking forward to trying the medical marijuana for pain which I have a lot of I could talk about it all day long I don’t have the energy I need some help I don’t know if medical marijuana is the answer but I’m pretty sure it is from what I’ve read just wanna know can you take pain meds and medical marijuana at the same time


I take pain medicine and have been for a long time will medical marijuana help me with my pain and I’m in the state of Oklahoma where they have butchered it Can you take pain meds and smoke marijuana Surely to God it has to help I know it does I know it does so why are they doing this why are they doing this to what we voted on


I find that living simplisticly is key. Knowing that past is past - so move on. You can’t change other people but you can change who you associate with. Look for the upside in everything, you will find it - even if it’s a lesson in what not to do. Choose your battles! It is up to you what you will be involved in. You know yourself, you know what upsets, annoys, or saddens you so don’t go there.
The life lessons you outlined above are the same as my translated versions and if you follow those guidlines your stress will be minimal - mine is. And we all know that stress aggrevates pain so pay attention, adopt these rules and your life will be much nicer. I have lived by this for a few years now and it really does work.

Kelli Davidson

May Life be kind to you as well.


I have a thought.

Instead of avoiding people with stress, poor outlooks, and more… extend a helping hand up.

They are going through so much that cutting them out of your life will add more stress to their load.

Invite them to dinner. Bring dinner if they can’t get out of the house..

Don’t ask what you can do. They may be frozen.. just do something.

In this disposable society, please don’t add to the pile of discards.