5 Ways to Live a Joyful Life With Chronic Pain
I was asked this week how I “deal” with my pain. Here’s what I have to say about this…
Because of a previous head injury, I have been experiencing thunderstorms and sledgehammers in my head nonstop for over a decade. These types of migraines are so painful that they have been nicknamed the “suicide headaches,” as the suicide rate for those with this condition is 20 times the national average. The suicide rate for those with chronic pain is about twice that for those without chronic pain. This is serious, kids!
So how do I do it? How do I live a joyful life even with this pain?
Here are my top five things:
“Decreasing pain starts with knowing about pain.” – Brainman
All this new brain science is good news! 10 years ago, doctors did not know what they know now about pain science and the nervous system. It was difficult to be hopeful. Now doctors are beginning to understand pain more and more, and the information is readily accessible to all. Being educated about my nervous system and how pain works has contributed to reducing my pain and giving me hope that change is possible.
Tell it to me plain and simple though – my brain already has enough going on in there! Here’s a great little video explaining pain in five minutes. Love it!
2. Daily Awareness Practice
“When we change our daily lives – the way we think, speak and act – we change the world.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
It is important to have a mind/body practice to consistently come back to day after day. This cultivates greater awareness of breath, body, thoughts and emotions. And it is from this awareness that change can occur. I can not change something that I don’t even know exists. My top three practices are yoga, meditation and qigong. For you, it might be something different, like prayer, gardening or dancing.
Daily practice also provides a sense of strength. Maybe I can’t work or walk my dog or visit my friends, but I can always come to my practice because it meets me where I am in that moment. No need to force anything; just notice what’s happening. Having some sort of practice that brings you to the present moment is fundamental in getting to know yourself and caring for your pain.
3. The Great Outdoors
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs
Nature is powerful. It just is. You can argue this, but you know it is true. When I feel awful, I go outside and something shifts. If I let myself really take in the surroundings, the smells, the sounds, the colors, the textures, I start to breath deeper and my whole body calms. I suddenly have a sense of the vastness around me and therefore the space around my pain. Make yourself go outside. Go ahead and try it out. See what happens.
4. Connection and Community
“There is simply no pill that can replace human connection. There is no pharmacy that can fill the need for compassionate interaction with others. There is no panacea. The answer to human suffering is both within us and between us.” – Dr. Joanne Cacciatore
Pain is so very isolating. I can go into hermit mode very fast. And sometimes that is needed as a way to recharge. But too much time spent in my hobbit hole is never helpful. Connecting with others produces endorphins that are needed to reduce pain. The more hugs, the less pain. As fearful as I was to volunteer, once I did, I realized how much I needed to feel of service to my community. Connecting with people and being of service helps reduce my pain. It just does. But it’s important to do this in a way that you can. Start small. Try little random acts of kindness.
5. Ridiculousness! A Sense Of Humor!
“It is impossible to overcome passion, aggression and ignorance with a long face. We have to cheer up. When you begin to see yourself fully and thoroughly, then you discover your sense of humor. It is not the same as telling bad jokes. Humor here is natural joy, the joy of reality.” – Chogyum Trungpa
Being in pain gets serious real fast. I need to get a good dose of ridiculous each day. Maybe that’s dancing in front of the mirror, playing pranks with my son, singing out loud or just having a playful time with friends. Just be ridiculous! I dare you. Be silly for a second. Shake out the serious. You can come back to it later. Notice what it would be like to approach your day with that childlike sense of wonder.
That’s it! So basically, learn about your pain since knowledge is powerful. Practice daily; awareness is the key. Go outside, connect with your community and take a moment to laugh out loud and just be childlike.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama
Last note: If I were to choose just one thing to practice in my day, it would be kindness. Being kind to myself and others brings with it an authentic sense of joy. This is the best therapy, and it’s free!
Wishing you all peace and a big dose of kindness!
This post originally appeared on Anie Boudreau.
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