Living with Chronic Pain
5 Coping Skills for Living With Chronic Pain
Chronic pain not only affects the body, it also affects the mind. While medical treatments for chronic pain are essential, they work best when combined with mental and emotional coping skills.
Skill 1: Learning
When diagnosed with a chronic pain condition, learning about the condition can ease the fear of the unknown. Individuals should be well-educated by a physician or other reputable resource(s) about their condition and treatment plan.
Participating in self-management education (SME) programs for chronic health conditions may also be helpful. These programs teach chronic pain management strategies that help to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. More information can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/learnmorefeelbetter/programs/index.htm.
Skill 2: Accepting
Acceptance of chronic pain does not mean giving up or not investing any effort to reduce pain and increase quality of life. Instead, acceptance of a chronic pain diagnosis means recognizing the reality of the condition, which eases the emotional struggle with the situation. Acceptance of chronic pain allows individuals to focus on management and treatment.
Accepting chronic pain is a challenging skill that may be best addressed with a counselor or therapist. Both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) have proven to be effective treatments for individuals with chronic pain conditions.
Skill 3: Relaxing
Relaxing while in pain can be challenging, but it is possible. Persistent pain can increase stress, and stress can increase chronic pain. It can become a vicious cycle.
Various relaxation techniques and practices, such as mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, can decrease the stress response, which can reduce chronic pain. Relaxation tapes, online tutorials or videos may also be helpful.
Biofeedback can also help with relaxation. During biofeedback training, a professional uses technology to help individuals learn to control bodily functions, such as heart rate and muscle tension. Once these skills are mastered, they can be practiced without the use of technology.
Skill 4: Pacing
Activity pacing is a skill in which individuals learn to pace themselves throughout the day in order to conserve energy and prevent increased pain. This often involves dividing large tasks into smaller ones. It can also include adjusting schedules. For example, if an event or activity is scheduled for the evening, activity pacing throughout the day helps conserve energy both physically and mentally.
Skill 5: Coping
The skill of coping involves using treatment tools, distraction techniques and learned skills when pain becomes severe. Coping treatment methods include taking pain medication, using hot and cold therapy, applying topical creams, getting a massage, etc.
Distraction techniques can also help individuals cope by focusing attention away from negative or painful thoughts. Watching a favorite movie, talking to a friend, or participating in a hobby or pastime are all examples of distractions.
It is important to note that even when these coping skills are mastered, unusual levels or unfamiliar types of pain should be discussed with a physician.