Chronic pain is defined as any prolonged pain that lasts more than 12 weeks. It affects more than 100 million Americans and 1.5 billion people worldwide.
According to a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) those who suffer from persistent pain spend $600 billion annually on medical treatments and missed employment.
Presently the main treatment for chronic pain is opioid and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. With such staggering high numbers of people who suffer with pain and the main mode of treatment as opioids, there is no wonder America has an opioids epidemic.
Origins of Chronic Pain
Pain originates from injuries, inflammation, or nerve disorders (neuropathies and neuralgias). Emotional stress, trauma, and PTSD can also cause chronic pain. Recent research shows the direct correlation between the mind and body. Simply put, unresolved emotional issues further contribute to severe somatic symptoms.
During stress we most often tighten our muscles. And with prolonged periods of emotional distress, tight muscles weaken, become fatigued, and inefficient.
Effects of Chronic Pain
The continuation of intense pain affects us not only physically but also psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Agony is accompanied by feelings of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.
Constant discomfort is complemented with a desire to be alone. Lingering pain also affects our faith. One might begin to ask, “Why would such a loving God cause so much pain and suffering?”
Relief Can Be Achieved
Chronic pain doesn’t have to be ingrained. There is light at the end of the tunnel and extended time spans free from pain.
How, you may ask. Here are five out of ten approaches to get you on a path of diminished pain without medication and most importantly opioids. Next week, we will explore the other five methods to soothe pain without medical treatment.
- Thought Watching
Pain affects us psychologically. Pain hurts. We want it to go away instantly. That’s a normal reaction unless you’re a masochist.
It is natural for our minds to judge and ruminate about the pain. We dislike it, we think of it as not our friend, and nor do we want it to hang around.
This thought response although normal is counter-productive because most often, pain tells us something is wrong. It says, “pay attention.”
If we ignore the pain, it usually worsens over time. It also contributes to increased anxiety, stress, and depression.
The solution is thought watching or mindful awareness. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. It’s getting curious as if you are seeing/feeling something for the first time. You take on a childlike attitude.
Curiosity teaches us to explore without having an agenda. It sounds counter-intuitive but let go of the goal trying to reduce the pain.
Attune to your pain just as you are experiencing it, right now. Explore what it’s like. Is it tingly, sharp, dull, or mobile? Ask yourself, “What am I noticing right now?” Experiencing your pain as it is in the now provides a more accurate assessment of your pain.
The process of curious focus replaces the old thought record of, “I’m in constant pain.” “This will never go away.” “There is no relief in sight.” And on and on, that begins the spiral deep into the rabbit hole of depression.
- Adopt a Worldview
Pain affects us socially. Depression sets in and with despair it is common to isolate. Isolation causes a sense of loneliness and that we are the only ones suffering.
You are not alone. Billions of people suffer daily with painful episodes. Having a sense of universality fosters compassion. You are not in this alone. There are others just like you who also suffer.
Visualize the suffering of another. Let it touch your heart. Breathe with it and evoke a sense of compassion. As you feel compassion for others who are suffering, offer yourself that same compassion.
Send loving kindness messages to those suffering and to yourself. “May my pain and sorrow be eased.” “May the pain and sorrow of others be eased.” Visualize the release and relief. Imagine what that would look like and feel like.
The mind is a powerful tool. Use it to your advantage. Your happiness and suffering depend on your imagination, your thoughts, and your actions. Take charge and remind yourself about the possibility of a spacious heart, of love, and of freedom from pain.
Our diet plays a large role in our over-all health. Sugary fares, fried foods and processed/boxed diets yield heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation leading to chronic pain.
Maintain a healthy diet consisting of a variety of bright and colorful vegetables. Choose organic, free-range eggs and organic lean proteins. Consume healthy fats found in avocados, olive oil, wild-caught fatty fish, and nuts. Eat 5 or 6 small meals every 3 hours or so.
Reduce or eliminate all processed foods, added sugars, and grains from the diet. Integrate natural probiotics into the diet to optimize gut flora and reduce inflammation. Good food choices include kimchee, kombucha, and sauerkraut.
- Moderate Exercise
Exercise is good for the mind and the body. Physical stimulation lowers cortisol levels and releases endorphins, the feel good hormones.
Exercise also pumps oxygenated blood to all your parts including those in pain. The increased blood flow sends nutrients and oxygen for healing and soothing.
Get outside and get moving. You don’t have to move quickly. A slow, moderate walk 20 minutes a day and working up to an hour can help mend your mind and your body.
Yoga is another form of exercise that stretches tight muscles, teaches breathing techniques to ease your tension, and a sense of community. Go get your “Aummmm” in.
- Social Support
Joining a group gets your mind away from your pain. With the support of others, you know you are not alone; others care, and can offer kindness and compassion.
Getting out of your head to help others eases agony also. Volunteer for a charity you support. Join a sewing, knitting, or quilting group. Take an art class. Join a walking group. Join a women or men’s support group. These are just some ideas. Brainstorm your own and break free from your same routine, isolation, and discomfort.
Chronic pain affects billions of people psychologically, physically, socially, and spiritually. Pain doesn’t have to ruin our sense of self, control our social interaction, restrict our work habits, or our spiritual viewpoints. Adopting a universal worldview, compassion and kindness of self and of others, awareness of our thoughts and their effects, and making a few minor lifestyle changes can have a huge impact on reducing our pain.
You don’t have to go at it alone. Seek help, join a group, and take on some new techniques. Taking control of your life is empowering. Embrace your power.
Stay tuned, next week we will explore more ways to reduce the effects of pain.
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