The Top 10 Ways I Combat Chronic Pain
Like most chronic pain patients, I spent years seeking the elusive, yet coveted, diagnosis. I saw specialists of every kind, and while the diagnoses piled up, the pain didn’t decrease. I, admittedly, wanted a medication miracle to make it all better. I eventually found several medical modalities that worked; however, it wasn’t until I took measures into my own hands that I started to really witness relief. Once I recognized my own role in the manifestation of my pain, as well as the fact that my fight-or-flight system was out of whack, I realized I could control it. I slowly started to implement the following measures, which I now perform daily, to keep my pain at bay.
1. I stick to a set sleep schedule. I go to bed at the same time, and I wake up at the same time. I know my body needs between seven and a half to eight hours of sleep each night, so I try not to fall too short of this. I also don’t allow myself to sleep in because too much sleep also affects my pain. Another important piece of this? I do not nap. I often lie down and meditate or relax for 20 minutes, but I do not nap. Napping throws off our natural circadian rhythms, and by not doing so, I help myself fall and stay asleep at night.
2. I make the bed. This seems like such a small, inconsequential step, but it’s not. It’s important in setting the tone for my day. If the bed is made, it’s much more difficult to crawl into it. Also, by making the bed, I put forth positivity: I don’t need to keep the bed unmade because I won’t need to crawl into it. If I need to rest during the day, I lie down on the couch or on top of the covers with a blanket or comfy afghan.
3. I stretch my body. I stretch every single morning. I perform a series of stretches I received at the Mayo Clinic to which I added several of my own Pilates and yoga moves that just plain feel good! These stretches target every muscle group and help me un-stiffen from the night before. It also sets a calming tone for both my body and mind for the upcoming day. I often pair my routine with enjoyable music or my favorite morning show.
4. I maintain caffeine consistency. Many chronic pain patients, migraineurs in particular, choose not to consume caffeine. For others, like myself, caffeine is not a trigger unless I’m inconsistent. Therefore, I drink exactly one cup of coffee every morning at roughly the same time. I do not skip my coffee, and I never have more than one cup. I also don’t drink caffeine at any other point during the day. The only exception to this rule is if I feel a headache or migraine building, in which case I’ll drink one additional cup in the late morning or early afternoon in an attempt to ward it off. I never drink caffeine after 2 p.m., though, as this is another circadian rhythm crasher.
5. I move my body. I invested in a Fitbit a few years ago, and I aim for 10,000 steps on a daily basis. This simple step (no pun intended) helped me add major movement into my day. I try to space it out so as not to overdo it. Small steps add up. I climb the stairs more often, walk or jog in place while watching a movie or show, and try to sneak in movement wherever I can. This allows my body to not sit or stand for too long, thus allowing the creep of muscle tension.
6. I eat the way that makes my body feel the best. There is so much controversy over how to eat these days, but I simplified it: I eat the way that makes my body feel the best. I avoid sugar and wheat, as well as any and all processed foods, my personal migraine triggering foods, and all unhealthy oils. When I eat this way, I feel better. Not only is my pain lessened, but I feel less brain fog, stomach issues and overall blah.
7. I spend time in nature. The benefits of being outdoors far outweigh the reasons not to venture out. Fresh air, sunshine, a connection to nature, vitamin D… And this is coming from a northern Minnesotan! Every day I try to spend at least 20 minutes outside. Often, I take walks, which allows me to kill two birds with one stone, movement and outdoor exposure. Double the endorphins!
8. I relax often. This is a tough one for us notoriously Type A pain peeps, but it was absolutely essential in changing my life. As with movement, I try to incorporate small amounts of relaxing into different parts of my day. In fact, I often reward myself with relaxation. For example, I’ll tackle my pile of mail with the promise of reading a chapter in my book afterwards. These mindless moments are crucial to calming the fight-or-flight response.
9. I meditate. Mindful is just as important as mindless. I jumped on the meditation bandwagon, and I saw all sorts of positive changes. I eventually paid for a meditation app because I believe in the profound power of it. I so enjoy my meditation time, which also allows me to incorporate deep breathing (another fight-or-flight calmer). In addition, I often listen to calming music on my app (yup, another fight-or-flight fighter), which helps me fall asleep. Win, win, win!
10. I changed my actions, interactions and reactions. I am constantly changing my thought processes, typically known as cognitive behavioral therapy. For example, instead of fretting about the migraine that just hit, I say to myself, “OK, I now have permission to lie down and read a good book.” Also, for many years, my actions, interactions and reactions to other people came from a positive place, but in reality, made me sick. So, I stopped. I stopped trying to please everyone all the time. I stopped trying to be perfect. I stopped trying to be perceived as perfect. While I’m still there for people, I’m not of the mindset that I need to be everything to everyone.
Balance, balance, balance. That’s what it’s really all about. Not moving too much or too little. Not eating too much or too little. Not sleeping too much or too little. Sensing a pattern here? The more balanced my day, the better I feel. This goes for both good and bad days. If it’s a high pain day, I do my best to stick to the schedule. If it’s a superwoman day, I do my best to stick to the schedule. I don’t do too much, and I don’t do too little. Balance. Even saying it sounds soothing. What methods do you use to calm and combat your chronic pain?
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash