6 Ways I've Found to Manage My Chronic Pain and Live a Fuller Life
A few years ago I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and arthritis, after months of experiencing severe pain and an extreme decline in functioning. When I was first diagnosed, I was barely able to walk across the room without high levels of pain. It got to a point that it was almost unbearable. I began to use a mobility scooter to improve my quality of life.
Over time as I saw specialists, I wasn’t offered much in the way of hope or treatment. I didn’t know that my symptoms could improve. I was essentially told that I would need to “stay positive” and “just get on with it.” I began to do my own research and discovered ways that I could start managing my chronic pain and reducing my symptoms.
Over time, I got a better handle on things. I began to exercise and increase my functioning. Now I’m living a full life despite my chronic pain, with much higher levels of functioning than I started out with. I wanted to share some of the ways I’ve found incredibly helpful in managing my chronic pain.
1. CBT techniques
I’ve found using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to reframe my thoughts very useful in managing my chronic pain. For example, when I find myself thinking a negative thought, perhaps in relation to not being able to complete a task I’ve set myself, such as “I wasn’t able to do that, I’m pathetic and it will always be this bad,” I stop the thought in its tracks. I remember the progress I’ve already made, and remind myself that recovery is a journey and that I’m doing well. I actively replace the negative thought with something more positive, like “I’ll try again tomorrow. I’m doing well.”
Pacing activities essentially means that I break activities down into manageable steps, and take rests in between. It’s important to take rests even when I’m having a no-pain day, to ensure I don’t cause a flare.
3. Facing my fears gradually
I’m gradually facing things that I’m afraid of, such as avoiding some activities because I’m frightened of falling. Fear avoidance (meaning avoiding activity because you’re frightened it will make your pain worse) can actually contribute to the chronic pain cycle. Even though it’s tough, I try to face things I’ve been avoiding in a gradual way to build my confidence.
4. Reducing stress levels
Stress can worsen chronic pain symptoms (this is called the stress and pain cycle), so it’s really important to try and keep stress levels as low as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially at the moment. I do my best to reduce my stress levels by talking through my worries with my husband; setting boundaries with loved ones; taking time for myself to relax and unwind; practicing mindful movement and trying to accept that not everything has to be perfect in order for me to be happy.
5. Practicing self-care
I do my best to practice good self-care, such as keeping a sleep routine, eating well, staying active, keeping up with regular hygiene and taking time to relax, because I know how important self-care is in managing my symptoms.
I didn’t think that exercise was going to be possible for me with chronic pain when I first started out. I could barely walk a few steps and mostly used my mobility scooter. However as I learned more about chronic pain and understood that my pain wasn’t actually going to harm me, despite how hard it was, I began to try and walk. I learned that exercise can help with chronic pain management, and for me, it became my stress release and my “happy place.”
I have built up my walking over the last two years or more to the point that I am now hiking long distances regularly with my husband and dogs, and loving it! My mobility scooter hasn’t been used for many months, and I’m getting fitter and more confident all the time.
Learning to live a full life despite my chronic pain is an ongoing journey. It’s not easy, it’s not a quick or magic fix, and my symptoms haven’t disappeared. But they have improved, massively. I am determined to keep learning and growing, continuing on my recovery journey.
Getty image by d3sign