June 4, 2010
Find Help When Living With Chronic Pain
by Dr. William Schiff
Clinical Psychologist, Walton Rehabilitation Health System
Augusta, GA—Most of us can’t imagine living in constant pain. But according to the American Academy of Pain Management, for more than 50 million Americans, there is no imagining—that is their reality.
Chronic pain impacts a person’s ability to work, sleep, concentrate, socialize and their overall quality of life. Depression and anxiety follows, and a vicious cycle is created—depression can actually worsen pain conditions, which can lead to more depression and so on and so on.
Those living with this condition may feel all alone, but it’s important they realize that help is available and that they take that first step—whether it’s speaking with a psychologist, joining a support group, or simply learning more about chronic pain. The following tips can also help a person and their family come to terms with their pain condition as well as improve their overall quality of life.
Tip No. 1: Know yourself. Knowing what to expect can help normalize a chronic condition, so it’s important to be aware of your triggers and how to avoid them. For example, certain foods can trigger a migraine headache or being on your feet for an extended period of time may trigger lower back pain. Avoid these triggers, or work with your physician or therapist on ways to compensate for them. For example, pre- and post-walk stretching may help prevent the onset of pain. Your physician can also provide help through tools like biofeedback, which helps patients learn to regulate their own body’s responses as a way to control pain.
Tip No. 2: Educate your family. Your family can be your greatest means of support, but they may not be able to fulfill that role if they don’t really understand what it’s like to live with chronic pain or how serious it can be. They may begin to feel helpless or hopeless about what they can realistically do to help, and may even begin to resent your condition. So instead, involve your family in your personal education process, bring them to doctors’ appointments or engage them in family counseling. Knowledge can give your family the tools to offer support, encouragement or just a shoulder to cry on when you need it.
Tip No. 3: Regain your sense of self. Chronic pain can be all-encompassing, and depression can set in when a person begins to feel they can’t do certain activities or live their life how they want because of pain. But when you stop doing activities you enjoy, you start to lose your sense of self. It’s important that you don’t think of yourself as a “chronic pain person,” but instead take the view that you are a nurse/mother/brother/friend who also happens to have chronic pain. A psychologist can also help you by reinforcing positive coping skills that help you continue to live your life.
Tip No. 4: Take baby steps. Managing your chronic pain and your quality of life requires a delicate balance. There will be good days, and there will be bad days. But what is most important is that you never stop pushing yourself. It doesn’t have to be a big push, but as long as you continue trying to stay active, involved and connected with others, it can make a noticeable difference to your emotional well-being.
Tip No. 5: Find an advocate. When you’re in pain, it can often be difficult to advocate for yourself. But when you have a disability, asking the right questions, exploring other treatment options and being able to speak up for yourself is vital—especially when you are still trying to find the right treatment. So choose a trusted third party who can help you explore these options. This can be a family member or friend, or even a professional like a psychologist.
Living with chronic pain isn’t easy. In fact, it may be one of the hardest things that people do. That’s why it’s so important that those living with chronic pain don’t isolate themselves. Help is available; it’s just a matter of taking that first step.
Dr. William Schiff is a clinical psychologist who specializes in pain at Walton Rehabilitation Health System.
Media Contact: Danielle Wong Moores, Public Relations Specialist, 706-434-0150
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