Dealing with Chronic Pain
Nothing detracts from our quality of life quite like chronic pain can — learning to live with it affects nearly every aspect of day-to-day living.
As we are learning, however, managing chronic pain with opioid pain relievers is problematic in and of itself — over time, more and more medication is required to keep the discomfort in check. Add to that the fact that in 2016 alone, 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses, and the risk of addiction cannot be overstated.
Chronic Pain and Emotional Distress
But this does not change the fact that 100,000 million Americans (and 1.5 billion people worldwide) are currently living with chronic pain, which is defined as pain that lasts for 12 weeks or longer.
The problem with chronic pain is that it can affect just about every aspect of our lives, so it’s imperative to check with either your primary care physician or a pain management clinician to determine your options.
The psychological impact of chronic pain can be overwhelming — patients feel a plethora of emotions, such as anger, anxiety (a feeling akin to waiting for the other shoe to drop), depression – even hopelessness.
Additionally, depression in and of itself can intensify and in some cases, may even cause chronic pain.
Because of the strong link between chronic pain and major depression, many doctors prescribe antidepressants — not only to combat emotional stress. Some antidepressants can actually help keep chronic pain manageable.
Daily Management of Chronic Pain
But in addition to antidepressants and opioids, there are certain lifestyle changes that may lessen the intensity of chronic pain over time:
- Keep track of your daily pain level, as well as a list of physical activities you engaged in. This way, your doctor can assess how well you are managing your pain on a daily basis.
- Try to keep stress to a minimum — when it comes to chronic pain, stress can not only exacerbate the pain we already have, it can lead to physical and emotional pain in and of itself.
- Exercise. While it may seem counterintuitive, exercise, if done properly, releases endorphins (natural pain relievers) in our brains.
- Have a cup of coffee. Like exercise, caffeine in moderate amounts also releases endorphins. In fact, to get more bang out for your exercise buck, try having a cup of coffee before working out — the endorphins released by the caffeine can help alleviate discomfort while exercising.
- Limit alcohol intake — alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, disallowing restorative sleep.
- Join a pain management support group — spending time with those who have walked in your shoes can bring fresh perspective to your situation. Providing your emotions with an escape valve by talking through shared experiences not only relieves anxiety and depression, it may also lessen the severity of the pain itself.
Managing chronic pain entails much more than merely alleviating physical symptoms — if anything, dealing with unrelenting pain reminds us that taking care of ourselves doesn’t mean taking care of our bodies, only. Focusing on emotional and psychological well-being is just as critical as exercising, eating well, and getting adequate sleep if we are to successfully manage chronic pain flare-ups.