Chronic pain is a drag. No doubt about it.
Day in and day out, the pain is there. You might not know what the underlying cause even is. Regardless, you are treating it with different therapies whether it's medications, supplements, physical therapy, heating pads, and whatever else.
But, did you know that the way you live your life has a lot to do with how you cope with pain? There are a few daily habits you should be adopting to help you on your pain journey. While they are not a cure for chronic pain, they make dealing with it a heck of a lot easier.
Here are the small, daily habits you can start today.
1. Get moving
Sometimes, it might seem counterintuitive to exercise when you are in pain. You might say "moving makes my pain worse, so I just won't do it." However, this logic is incorrect.
When you stop exercising, your muscles become atrophied and weak, which can make pain worse.
When we say ‘exercise,' we don't mean that you have to become a heavyweight champion. Or run 5 miles on the treadmill every day.
There are plenty of ways to exercise that are low-impact and easy on the joints.
For example, swimming and water aerobics are great exercises for those who suffer from joint pain.
Other great methods of exercise for people in pain include yoga and tai-chi which combine meditation with movement. If you want to keep it pretty simple, walking is a good form of exercise.
Another great, safe way to get started with exercise and movement is by partnering with a physical therapist. He/she will be able to teach you very specific exercises that will help relieve your pain and are safe to perform without risking further injury to yourself.
Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week.
2. Eat a nourishing diet
We've said this many times before, but eating well is such an amazing thing you can do for your body.
Your diet not only provides nutrients but also helps you to maintain a healthy weight, maintain blood sugar levels, promote healthy digestion, and protect heart health.
Don't pay so much attention to the word ‘diet' and all of the fads out there. Just try to eat real food as close to nature as possible such as organic produce and meat. Avoid overly processed foods with mile-long ingredient lists. That's not real food.
If you're suffering from pain, try to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods like nuts, olive oil, leafy greens, berries, and fish like tuna or salmon.
3. Nix bad habits like smoking and drinking
I think we all know by now that smoking is a nasty habit that harms your health. That also goes for excessive drinking. However, it's not uncommon for people to reach for a quick smoke or a drink to temporarily relieve pain or stress.
Interestingly, research has established a link between being a smoker and more intense pain. Smoking has also been shown to reduce circulation. This is no good for someone in pain.
Heavy alcohol use has been linked to certain cancers, liver disease, and dementia.
What is considered heavy drinking? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) says that a woman has an alcohol use disorder if she drinks more than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 in one week. For men, it's more than 4 drinks per day or 14 per week.
Even if you're not a heavy drinker, maybe you believe that one drink before bed is okay because it will help you sleep. The reality is, however, that alcohol prevents you from getting deep sleep which can make you restless. That equals less restorative sleep.
If you have issues with smoking or drinking, there are many different ways to approach treatment.
There are support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous which provide peer support to those who want to quit or cut back on drinking or drug use. Mutual support is a great way to find motivation and accountability.
You can also work one-on-one with a therapist or psychiatrist in counseling to change your behaviors.
Also, there is always medical therapy which entails taking medications to curb cravings and promote abstinence from alcohol and drugs. If you would need a detox, medical monitoring is a must.
4. Schedule downtime
Nowadays, it seems like every minute of every day is scheduled and we are constantly go, go, go.
This leads to burnout as well as increased stress and pain.
Research supports the need for downtime. This study associated too little downtime with higher levels of perceived stress in working parents.
Take some time every day for some downtime to do absolutely nothing. Take a break from Instagram, games on your phone, and television. Focus on clearing your mind and reflecting on your day. Try some breathing exercises. You'll feel a lot better.
Don't be afraid to say ‘no' sometimes to parties and events when you really need the rest. It's okay to miss out on your cousin's friend's kid's dance recital.
5. Find a new hobby
Chronic pain really has a way of taking over the mind. If you suffer from chronic pain, it becomes very easy to withdraw from everyone and everything. The mind is a powerful thing and you can make yourself crazy.
The best remedy to this is to find ways to distract yourself. The last thing you want to do is lay in bed all day thinking about your pain.
Take up a new hobby like gardening, tennis, or yoga. Take a cooking class or join a book club. Get out in your community and volunteer.
The possibilities are really endless to keep yourself busy and get your mind off of the pain.
6. Keep a pain journal
Here is an idea most people haven't thought of. Keep a daily journal of your pain.
This would entail noting your pain score (on a scale of 1-10) every day. Also, keep track of your activities to see if you can find a pattern of what makes your pain better or worse.
Bring this journal with you to doctor's visits so that your doctor can help you find better ways to treat your pain.
7. Find your zen with meditation
Yes, meditation. It can sound a little too fancy and intimidating for some people, I get it.
But, meditation doesn't have to be complicated.
You can find small chunks of your daily routine to get into a meditative state like when you take a shower, brush your teeth, make a cup of tea, or drive home from work with the radio off. Just you and your thoughts. It's good to be able to shut your brain off sometimes, so to speak.
Other methods of meditation include guided imagery, repetition, and breathing techniques.
We recommend starting with an app like Calm or HeadSpace to get started with the basics of meditation. These apps will provide guides and music for whatever your needs are whether it's sleep, stress relief, self-esteem, or mindfulness.
8. Get some shut eye
Another thing we cannot emphasize enough. Get some sleep!
Sleep is the time when your body heals and rejuvenates itself. It also levels out your hormones, like leptin and ghrelin, to help you wake up a brand new person and make it through the day.
Solid, restorative sleep is a really effective tool against chronic pain.
It turns out that research shows that sleep deprivation can actually worsen pain and make you more sensitive to pain. In this particular study, exaggerated pain responses in mice related to sleep loss were diminished once normal sleep was restored.
Make sure you are getting your 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Follow these tips to get your most restful night of sleep.
Start incorporating these small changes into your routine every day to help fight pain. Your pain might not be completely gone, but you'll feel a heck of a lot better.
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