Living with Chronic Pain

Dealing With the Fear of “What’s Next?”


Individuals with chronic pain often experience fear of the unknown. Potential concerns about “what’s next” may include questions about the progression of their condition, instructions from a new specialist, approved treatment options, and laws changes regarding medication therapy.

Individuals with chronic pain can take steps to cope with these worries. Below are five tips to deal with the fear of “What’s next?”

  1. Make plans to control what can be controlled. Individuals with chronic pain cannot determine when their next flare-up will occur, how successful their next treatment option will be, or in what way their condition will change in the future. However, there are some aspects of chronic pain that can be managed. A plan can be developed to deal with a flare-up that may occur, such as medications or temperature therapy. Certain coping techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, can be learned. Other controllable factors that may have an impact on chronic pain include consuming a well-balanced diet, prioritizing sleep, and participating in regular physical activity.
  2. Know who to consult and how to contact them when questions arise. Individuals with chronic pain often see multiple physicians and specialists. Knowing who to approach and how to contact them when uncertainty arises can alleviate some fear. For example, knowing that a primary care doctor can be contacted through a patient portal, or that a specialist has a nurse available via a phone call, can be reassuring. Whenever individuals see a new physician or health care professional, they should ask for the best way to reach them if questions emerge.
  3. Remember that the future also holds positive outcomes. When thinking about the future, it is easy to concentrate on negative outcomes. Examples include worsened pain, unsuccessful treatments, or difficulty obtaining treatment. However, there is an equally likely chance that positive outcomes will occur. Pain may decrease, an improved treatment may be developed, or changes in insurance may result in easier access to treatments. Keep the opportunity for positive outcomes in mind to reduce stress concerning the future.
  4. Take action when possible. Waiting for laws or regulations to change contributes to stress and can cause a missed opportunity to take action. When a condition or treatment may be impacted by laws, insurance coverage, or other factors, action should be taken toward ensuring appropriate care is received. For example, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sought feedback and experiences from patients and the public while revising the 2016 opioid prescribing guidelines for physicians. Canada’s Drug and Health Technology Agency regularly requests patient feedback on the assessment of drugs during the reimbursement review process. Finding opportunities and taking actions to make a positive impact helps individuals feel accomplished and create change in the future.
  5. Practice meditation. Oftentimes, the best action to take when worrying about what may come next is to focus on the present moment. A regular meditation practice can help with developing a tolerance for uncertainty. This includes focusing on the present a minimum of five minutes each day, noticing when the mind wanders toward the future, and gently bringing thoughts back to the present.

Additional sources: Psychology Today, Canada’s Drug and Health Technology Agency, and Pain Management and Injury Relief

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