Dealing With Pain – 7 Tools To Get Started

Dealing with pain is hard.

No shit, huh? But with practice, dealing with pain can be more comfortable.

It is invisible. It can be suffocating. It can be isolating. It can be a source of shame. It can be embarrassing. It can be a nightmare.

It is so often all of those things.

It is rarely enlightening, encouraging, empowering.

But, it can be.

Talking about pain is harder.

You are hardwired for struggle. You don’t have to suffer alone.

Brené Brown

I hate talking about my pain; it terrifies me. It is intensely vulnerable, as I am prideful of my walls and strong appearance. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I prefer that people not be aware of the pain that I endure. Know me long enough though, and you’ll know that I wake up in pain. From the moment my eyes open to the time they close (and often through the night) my body aches. Pain is not something that comes to play once in a while when I have pushed myself too far; it follows me wherever I go.

It is preferable to suffer in silence than to be perceived as a “complainer” or whiny. Or worst of all – vulnerable. Despite all of my best-convoluted attempts to remain silent, there is always a point where it must come up. This point is still one of contention for my inner demons.

You see, those who suffer from chronic pain often hope to suffer invisibly; it is either a battle of total denial or complete forfeit. There is a stigma, much like mental illness. Except, chronic pain and mental illness almost always go hand in hand. Both are mostly invisible to those around us. Some start with emotional distress that evolves into physical pain, while for others the beginning was physical.

The end point is the same though. Because physical and emotional aches are so invisible, people forget or just cannot understand. The impact on our minds can be profound, and science is still working to understand. We who must cope with this are often labelled bitchy, grumpy, impatient, among other things. It may be all we can do to get through the moment, to grit our teeth and eek out terse answers as our bodies scream at us.

Lessons learned, oft forgotten.

I have dealt with my conditions for over a decade now, and there have been many lessons learned along the way. Sometimes I forget them, only to be overjoyed when the learnings are remembered. Early in my Fibromyalgia diagnosis, I was fortunate enough to have had access to a pain therapist – and the tools that she taught me then, are the base of what I still use to this day. A lot has happened since the time that I was nearly on disability, and completely out of hope – more on that journey another day.

But here’s the reason that I cannot stay silent anymore. I can’t recommend watching this enough. I can’t recommend it to enough people. Brené is seriously on her stuff. She’s the right mixture of funny, profound and data-based. And she is profoundly correct.
Every time I watch it, I find my self at least holding back a tear, but always nodding a bit along.

“You are hard-wired for struggle”

-Brené Brown

So this is as much a guidepost and reminder for me, as it is an introduction for you.

Tools for coping with pain that you can start today.

Even my cat gets it.

Individual mileage will vary, based on commitment and personal starting point. Humour your guru. Treat this as an introduction, and feel welcome to you can throw your hands up in the air now and turn away at this “non-sensical bullshit” as I did. Until it got to the point, I thought I had no choice but to try. It’s ok; you can get pissed, I’ll be here when you come around. (I understand that sometimes we need time to process, and decide to make things our idea)

1.Mindfulness.

What this means according to Psychology Today:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.

What this means in reality:

Pay attention. To your thoughts, to the world around you.  Stop shutting everything out. It takes a lot of practice. Start where you are, and work with what you have for now. Meditation is one tool that many have used to help get started with mindfulness practice. Others go straight to number 3 on this list, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I argue this is nearly the same thing, just with different approaches. For now, accept that it won’t come quickly. It is imperative because you can’t selectively remove emotion.

Start here:

Research different ways to add mindful to your day. Mindful.org has an excellent primer article to get you started. Or try checking out the Headspace or Calm apps! – I prefer Calm, personally, Tamera’s voice is really soothing to me.

2. Journaling.

What this means:

Write out your experience. Set aside the time to write (ideally by hand) what is happening in your life, or how you are feeling. Do it in the morning. Or the evening. Or throughout the day. Or just doodle on a page. There are thousands of different approaches here.

What this means in reality:

Journaling itself is a mindfulness practice. You can’t let go of what you are choosing to hold in – you goof. The act of emptying out your experiences, anxieties, and thoughts onto a page inherently gives you the opportunity to let them go. I like to empty my mind with morning pages, a practice that originated (at least in name) with Julia Cameron. The core principle is just to let things flow out. Usually, I start with a timer and just allow every good, bad and awful thought flow out. Then, I turn the page and begin setting intentions. The five-minute journal setup is a great way to do this. Shift to naming things you are grateful for, things that are in your power that would make the day excellent, and an affirmation on which to focus.

Start here:

Lifehacker has a decent primer for you on the benefits and how to get started

3. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

What this means:

It’s mostly about recognizing the patterns of your thought and understanding how thought connects to how you feel. It is also the most widely used evidence-based practice for improving mental health. In all the things that I have practiced over the years, this is by far the most useful and is essentially the core of why all the other options on this list work.

What this means in reality:

If as a chronic pain sufferer, therapy isn’t on your radar – it should be. If you are not yet experiencing depression, the odds are strong that you will be, but,  this does not mean that you have to. For those of who hate the fluffy talk of today’s self-help, it is the antidote, being firmly rooted in evidence. Be aware, that it will lead you to things that you had previously thought impossible or useless. (possibly even all of the points on this list)

Start here:

List out (hopefully in the journal you are now considering starting) times when you resist experience pain. Right now, picture yourself putting up a stop sign in those moments. Do this as vividly as you can.  Get to know your stop sign. For me, it’s the exact one I see on the streets.  That bright red octagon with its firm STOP word. Spend a few weeks trying to recognize the moments when you need the stop sign, and then start using the stop sign. It’s all about identifying the patterns that are on autopilot.

4. Yoga. (Or a hot bath)

What this means:

Yoga is a practice of stretching and breathing – think active meditation. Using non-judgment and a settling-in factor, it helps bring a calmness to the sensation of pain. A morning yoga sequence has decreased my pain from back injury to a point where I feel entirely functional.

What this means in reality:

Stretch. Breathe. Stop fucking fighting the illness. Don’t tense up against it, open your mind and breathe into it. It is not trying to convince yourself it isn’t there, but becoming present with it. Accepting it, and gently moving through it.

Start here:

Adrienne is fantastic, human, and not obnoxiously serene. Here’s her Day 1 of a30-day challenge.  Bonus points if you do the challenge. Bonus points still, if you just do day one every day – it doesn’t take much for it to be profoundly helpful.

5. Diet and Exercise.

No need for the three points. Stop eating shit. (that chocolate bar isn’t stopping the pain.) Pay attention to what you are putting in your body. (those chips didn’t make you feel better, did they?) And even though it seems impossible – MOVE. Move whatever little bit you can muster. Staying in bed all day is not going to help, it’s going to make it worse. Pick a battle for the day and push that limit. It doesn’t have to be a marathon; it can just be a few laps of the house spaced out over the day. But – Get. Up. And. Move.

6. Talking it out.

Ditto here – sometimes just talking to someone, anyone can make a huge difference. Stop isolating yourself – it is making you more miserable.

sad dog takes a day for himself wrapped in a blanket
Turn that frown upside down.

7. Forgive yourself.

You aren’t perfect. And neither is any other person on this doomed little planet of ours. Our pale blue dot of imperfection. Stop trying to tell yourself you aren’t enough, that it isn’t ok to be the way that you are. It’s more than okay. And you know what? Sometimes it is acceptable to need to take a day wrapped up in a blanket – as long as you are steeling yourself to push forward the next day, and setting up your frame of mind for success. 😉

These are the primary tools I use to help deal with pain, though there are much more on the list. I plan to cover these in more detail, and more of options in a future post.

What tools do you use to help get you through the day?

Posted by Kate

Modern-day sass-pot renaissance woman. Jack-of-all-trades, lover of many. Crafting the best out of the situation. Here to share what she has learned with you.

One Reply to “Dealing With Pain – 7 Tools To Get Started”

  1. […] moons ago, my pain therapist introduced me to cognitive behavioral therapy; affirmations were an integral part of re-wiring the parts of my […]

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