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The One Thing That Helps Distract Me From My Pain

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I don’t generally struggle with anxiety. It doesn’t mean I don’t get stressed about certain circumstances. Of course I do. We all do.

In general, my overall health situation doesn’t stress me. I accept it for what it is, and I’m adjusting my life accordingly.

Pain however, when it is at unrelenting levels day after day, does cause great physical stress. Left unmanaged, it can easily lead to mental stress.

I don’t usually show that I’m in pain. I can still talk and laugh through it and function mentally.

I’m doing that right now writing this article. It’s helping to distract me from the pain of four new fractures in my left foot, along with the regular daily pain my bone disease lavishes on me.

So while I don’t appear mentally stressed, I’m very aware I am physically stressed. I’m working full-time not to let it take control of mind as well as my body.

Whenever I’m in hospital, the medical staff don’t take much notice of my outward demeanor in relation to pain. I’ll say it’s 6/10. They’ll take my blood pressure and say, “Sorry Sam, we think it’s more like 9/10.”

Once my pain medication kicks in, my blood pressure drops. Pretty easy deduction that physical pain causes a physical stress reaction.

My pain isn’t going to improve. If anything, it will get worse as my rare disease progresses. Whatever happens, there are very few options available to me now.

Pain medication definitely helps, but only to a certain degree. I need other pain management tools to help reduce the stress of pain.

One of my key strategies is distraction therapy. While writing is a great distraction, it’s music that makes everything better. Music soothes my soul.

When I wake in the morning, I literally can’t move. As soon as I try and stand, my broken bones create their own musical sound — which is far from heavenly.

I’ve found over the past year that if I want to complete a physical task around the home, like making the bed or doing some light housework, I need to implement some kind of pain management distraction therapy.

Here’s where music works for me. As soon as I play my favorite songs, I begin singing. My mind becomes focused on the music and the words of the song. I listen to music that is special to me. Mostly that’s a variety of gospel music, but I also love country, Celtic and popular music too.

I still feel my pain. Each step causes sharp shocks through my body, but it’s not at the forefront of my mind. That small change of allowing the music to flood my mind, allows me to complete the task I want to do. The music brings me joy and that reduces stress, which in turn helps reduce my sense of pain.

Over the past few months I’ve taken my music distraction therapy a step further. I’ve created a discipline where I don’t listen to music unless I’m completing a physical task.

That may sound a little odd, but it means I now look forward to doing some basic physical tasks each day, rather than cowering at the thought of them. They are now linked to a reward.

Physical tasks = my music sessions, listening to my favorite songs. They ignite a happy, positive image in my mind rather than an unbearable, painful one.

Now, my idea of what’s an important physical task will likely be different to yours. For me, it’s important to get dressed nicely each day, make the bed, keep the house tidy etc. I don’t want to feel like a patient or like I’m unwell, so doing these things help me still hold on to some semblance of normal. It’s important for my mental well-being.

Not to do these tasks would cause me mental stress, which would only aggravate my physical pain further.

I do need to take a sensible approach though. I still have intense limitations even while happily listening to music. I pace all my activities, and I can’t be standing or upright for more than 30 minutes at a time. I have severe pain during this half hour, but it won’t cause me to be laid up for days if I adhere to this time limit.

If I try and push through, then I generally end up with a new foot fracture or worse. Yes, I have learned the hard way.

So, if you want to try some music distraction therapy to do a task, here’s my tips. But remember, be sensible and do what works best for you.

  1. Think through how to go about the task in a way that won’t aggravate your pain.
  2. Set a time limit. Start slow and build up to longer tasks as you test your bodies limitations.
  3. Set a playlist on Spotify or however you listen to music. Make sure it is only going to play for the length of time you need to be active. It’s a great timing system – music stops, you stop.
  4. Enjoy yourself. Pain takes so much from us. To have five, 10 or 30 minutes of gentle, paced physical movement, listening to music you love is just pure joy.
  5. Be careful with upbeat music. I actually had some great toe tapping music on the other day and I started to dance a little. I know, I know. There were major consequences.

So aside from being careful about uplifting music that makes you think you can fly, I think music really can make everything better.

It might only be relief for a short time, but every moment of distraction reduces stress and helps to better manage chronic pain and chronic illness symptoms. That’s got to be a good thing in my book.

Originally published: August 13, 2018
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