Living with pain can have wide-ranging effects on your life. It can affect your mood (depression is common), the way you interact with others, and how much you can live the kind of life you want to live.
That said, pain does not have to control your life. You can be in charge—but first, you need a coping strategy.
Here are 10 tips that can help anyone living with pain keep their condition in perspective and experience a fuller, richer life.
1. Become your own advocate. No one will be able to stand up for your interests better than you—which means you must learn all you can about your condition. Whenever you see any doctor or healthcare professional, ask questions. (Learn how to talk to your doctor and what questions to ask). If you feel that you are not being diagnosed properly, get a second—or third, or fourth—opinion. Most pain is undertreated, and I think it is because people living with pain sometimes give up pushing for the best treatment. Do not give up.
2. Manage your expectations. Adopt a positive attitude toward your treatments, but be realistic about the results you can expect. One of the hardest parts about is accepting that you may never be 100-percent pain free. You may reach a point where your pain is controllable or experience periods when it goes away altogether, but it rarely goes away permanently.
3. Maintain a healthy weight, and remember that your food is your medicine. Getting to and maintaining a normal, healthy weight is probably the single most important thing you can do to help reduce pain. Excess weight creates a tremendous amount of strain and pressure on your spine, feet, knees, and hips, not to mention putting you in the high-risk category for diabetes and heart disease. (Learn more about foods that reduce pain.)
4. Get interested in something bigger than your pain. When you’re living with pain, it’s important to keep your life “big” and to stay open to new experiences. I’m convinced this is one of the most vital steps for coping with pain. Being involved in an activity or group helps take your mind off your pain and focus it on something that is important and empowering. This could be a social or political cause, a faith or religion, or simply a project you’ve always wanted to do—like research the family tree or write a novel. Do everything you can to keep yourself in the thick of things because that is what is going to make you feel alive and useful.
5. Make every day Thanksgiving. Living with pain puts you at a higher risk for feeling depressed, angry, resentful, and alone. To cope, focus on the good things in your life. Be thankful for every sunrise you see, for every good meal you eat, for every time you enjoy yourself with family and friends, for the possessions that give you pleasure. If it’s a sunny day, be grateful. If it’s a rainy day, be grateful anyway—it makes the ducks happy.
6. Laugh a lot. You may be thinking to yourself that as a person living with pain, you don’t exactly have a lot of things to giggle about. But the truth is that laughter really is the best medicine. One easy way to make yourself laugh is to watch funny movies and TV shows or read books by authors that make you laugh. Read the funny papers. Go to websites that report funny news or offer a joke of the day. The point is, find ways to get yourself laughing every day.
7. Look into complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. Since there is rarely a “silver bullet” when it comes to managing pain, you’ll need to use a multimodal pain treatment plan to get the best results. These can include regular massages, getting plenty of sleep, biofeedback, relaxation, and taking vitamins and supplements. Although you’re not likely to get major, long-term relief from CAM therapies, many of them will help you.
9. Play the percentages. Take advantage of all the safe pain relief you can get, no matter how small! If something relieves your pain by about 10 percent, keep doing it. Find something else that relieves your pain by another 10 percent. If you can find enough of these small things, you may be able to get significant pain relief using simple natural therapies like cold packs, exercise, or a fixed sleep schedule.
10. Know your limits. Living with pain means recognizing and avoiding the things that will exacerbate your condition. Some of these include lack of sleep; overwork; too much stress, anger, and frustration; eating the wrong foods; drinking too much caffeine; specific types of movements; not getting enough water; and so on. You must know your limits and enforce them.
There will be days when this comes easily, and other days when it will seem impossible. Don’t give up. With a proper diagnosis, good treatments, a multimodal approach, and the right coping strategies, you can live well, even if you are a person who has a lot of pain.