GOOD RESOLUTIONS – ESPECIALLY FOR THE CHRONIC PAIN PATIENT
´If the WHY is big enough, the HOW is easy´.
Have you heard the line, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting more of what you’ve always gotten?” It’s absolutely true, so you might want to try something different in the new year. I have 10 good intentions for you, ready for the New Year. For you, as a pain patient. Ten different pieces of advice intended to help reduce your pain. In any case, they will definitely ensure that you feel more comfortable and that will make your life easier. Good intentions are part of a New Year. What’s there to loose, anyway? Why not give it a try at least.
Get an endorphin rush: more action and exercise!
Maybe you move less because you’re worried that this will result in your pain. You may not do any exercise at all for this same reason. This is not good because it decreases your muscle strength, resulting in more pain. Lots of research has shown that keeping moving really is extremely important and is almost never the cause of more pain. So make sure that you go walking or cycling at least half an hour every day, preferably in the open air. Also regularly swimming or doing exercises in the water (aqua-gym) is good for your strength, conditioning and general wellbeing. Caution: don’t overdo it. If you jump in and start exercising like crazy in January, the chances are that you will over-exert yourself and cause an injury. That will give you an excellent excuse to stop right away but that’s not the easy way out you’re searching for, is it? Better to ask your doctor or physical therapist what exercises you can do. When you’re mobile enough, sure you can work out in a gym. Get yourself a good coach for starters, preferably a personal trainer or a physiotherapist. In the meantime you can also do simple exercises at home. Start off easy, and build up. You can find examples here. Repeat each exercise a few times, then increase the number of repetitions as the exercise gets easier, and add more, slightly heavier exercises to your routine. If your exercise material varies, it is even more effective. It shouldn’t make any difference whether you have a good or bad day. Try the exercises and activities on an equal level each day. By moving and exercising, endorphins will be produced by your nervous system. The principle function of endorphins is to inhibit the transmission of pain signals; they may also produce a feeling of euphoria very similar to that produced by other opioids. So in simple words: endorphins are brain chemicals that help improve your mood while also blocking pain signals.
Customize scheduled relaxation in your life.
It seems so obvious, but very few pain patients take or find the time to consciously relax now and then. Breathing and relaxation exercises or meditation can help you to calm your mind and body. Also yoga and mindfulness can help. Ask your GP or people around you where you can follow a good course. If you prefer to just get up and do it at home, try this: Create a peaceful environment, so no TV, roommates, mobile phones or iPads in the room. If you like to have some music in the background then buy something like an ocean sounds CD, or twittering birds in the gardens. Go easy: lie in a position that produces as little pain as possible. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Then, go to all the individual body parts, first tightening, and then relaxing them. Start with your left foot and work your way up to your head. Make sure you keep breathing quietly and regularly. If you have done this a number of times, it takes less and less effort and eventually you will be able to relax even under less soothing conditions. Try to apply this technique at times when you have a lot of pain or your body is tense and/or your mind is stressed. You will notice that the relaxation and quiet breathing you already know, can give pain relief. In addition to these exercises you can relax by reading a book, listening to music, walking, or doing something fun with family and friends.
Pain makes sleep difficult, and alcohol can make sleep problems worse. If you’re living with chronic pain, drinking less or no alcohol can improve your quality of life. You need a good night’s sleep to make the stress on your body and mind, that is provoked by the pain, disappear. Yes, it’s true that alcohol makes you fall asleep easier, but it is not a ‘good’ sleep. With alcohol in your blood you have fewer and shorter REM phases and your sleep is lighter, so you may wake up in the middle of night and have trouble getting back to sleep. You will not be fresh and energetic after such a night. I have read studies showing that ensuring a good night’s sleep is the very first important step towards improvement of chronic pain. Therefore, do everything you can to optimize your sleep. So no alcohol, especially before bed. Also, I know ‘Sleep Well Tea’ is not the first alternative you might think of, but give it a try for a few evenings, and you may be surprised by the outcome.
Make it easier for your doctor to help you.
Keep a log or journal of your daily ‘pain score’ to help you track your pain. Get started today. Give the pain of the day a rating between 1-10 (1 being no pain at all, and 10 being the most severe, intolerable pain you can imagine). Each evening, write this figure down in your notebook, together with the activities that you’ve had that day and note the result for your body. The next time you go to your family doctor or specialist, take your booklet and discuss what you have listed with her or him. Your doctor may be able to draw conclusions from your notes and give you a more targeted, effective medication or prescribe treatment. In any case, it is a good idea to keep a daily diary for yourself, if only to write things down regularly. Studies have shown that it helps to reduce your stress and anxiety, and as you know, stress, anxiety and fear are closely related to pain. For three years now, I myself have used the booklet: ‘ One line a day – a five-year memory book ‘. I write down every night in a few lines what I want to remember from that day. The great thing about it is that I can always read back what happened or what I did on that same day, 1, 2, and 3 years ago. Sometimes I write about very common things when I had ‘just another day in the house’, but often I find myself writing down beautiful and comforting things. It also helps put things in perspective now and then. I have given this book to so many friends as a present, and everybody just loves it. And it gets better every year you’ll be using it!
Finally quit smoking!
Many chronic pain patients light up a cigarette to put out the misery of their pain. Ironically, it has been found that smoking is counter-productive. The harmful chemicals in a cigarette result in worse blood circulation, as well as a slower healing process and an “increased risk of degeneration of the intervertebral discs (a frequently mentioned cause of lower back pain), so you’re only worsening your pain with that cigarette. You might think: “That cigarette is the only thing I can still enjoy in life”, but I dare say that is not true. I’m sure you can enjoy many more things. If quitting smoking gives you the reward of less pain, then you have much more to enjoy anyway. And find out how to find other things to enjoy in Resolution number 8. Really, if you needed a good reason to quit smoking, you have it now. Quitting smoking can have a positive influence on your pain. This is certainly true for chronic back pain and fibromyalgia. Ask your doctor for help in stopping.
Eat better and healthier
Give your body a boost and eat healthier. If you have to deal with pain every day, surely you want to do everything it takes to reduce that pain rather than make things worse? Really, one of the best ways to get a strong body is to eat healthy foods. A balanced diet improves your blood glucose levels, helps you to come/stay at a good weight, reduces the risk of heart failure and makes it easier for your body to digest food. I’m not saying that you should totally dive in the hype of ‘superfoods’, like quinoa, wheat grass, Acai berries, kale juice and Chia seeds right away, but if you make sure that whole grains, fish, fresh vegetables and fruit, and low-fat proteins are on your menu, you are well on the way. Foods that are often said to have a positive effect on chronic pain are: ginger, olive oil (especially the extra virgin), salmon and other fish with lots of omega-3, red grapes, thyme, cherries and the most often mentioned smasher: Turmeric (Kurkuma)! The latter is really getting put forward again and again as the very best nutritional element against chronic pain. You can easily use it as a herb on just about everything, and you can also buy it in pill form. Make sure you always combine it with some fats in your meal (like olive oil) and preferably also with black pepper. In that way, your body will absorb the maximum amount of turmeric. Foods that may have a negative impact on your pain are: tomatoes, potatoes, gluten and all sweeteners except stevia.
Respect your limitations and alternate your activity and rest.
You can manage your pain better when you take good care of yourself. Alternate your activity with rest breaks. To do this, use the Salami technique of Dr. Frits Winter or the spoon theory of Christine Miserando (read it here). Do not wait until your body indicates that you need a break. Often you may have stepped over your limits by that time. Divide your tasks during the day. Lie down; do not sit when you take a rest. Sitting is much more of a physical burden than lying down is, and even more than standing. Recently I even read: “sitting is the new smoking”. For the last couple of years, I always lie down when I take a coffee break (at least when I’m in my own home -;)), when I read a magazine or book, when I’m using my iPad for emailing and surfing on the web, when I am watching TV, and certainly when I write. I’m convinced that the fact that I am functioning a lot better and have less back pains than I did three years ago is partly due to this new habit. Learn to say ‘no’ and ask for help. Forget about a shine clean house and get out of the habit of wanting to finish a task before you take a break. It will be too late most of the time and the damage will already be done. It might be a good idea to keep a weekly schedule for your activities (and make sure you keep to it!)
Find ways to distract yourself from the pain so you enjoy life more and get out of your comfort zone.
Zooming in on pain only makes that pain grow. Try to focus on this misery as little as possible. Of course, you can’t be derived 24/7, but you have probably noticed that the pain seemed better when you were watching that exciting episode of CSI or that time when you and your friend were having such good laughs together. Use that knowledge and look for activities that you like or find interesting. Perhaps it is finally time for that cooking course, for learning Spanish online, or getting a little pussycat or dog. If you think you can no longer do all the things you once liked, due to the pain, it is about time to get out of your comfort zone and search for activities that you had never considered before. Ask the people around you to think along with you. Maybe you are a very creative person and you would enjoy designing jewelry, writing poems or painting. Or prove you’re a languages wonder and you can get started as a translator. That can all be done from the sofa or your bed. Check out all the opportunities that are offered on an online platform like fiverr.com. If anyone had told me five years ago that I would have written two books, by the end of 2015, one of which would be translated into English and sold around the world, and that I would be giving presentations in The Netherlands and Belgium, I would probably have called them crazy. Out-of-the-box thinking, and good computer support, made it all possible for me, so why wouldn’t it for you?
Read about other inspiring women with a chronic illness, who found a new career from their bed or couch:
Lottie Ryan: http://lottieryan.com/
Jessica Cangiano : http://www.chronicallyvintage.com/
Make sure that you know everything about your medication.
It is important that you know exactly what medications you take, exactly what they are prescribed for and what side effects they have for you. Also, find out if there are any alternatives. I assume you prefer to have a clear mind in the daytime and to have the highest possible energy level. When you’re drowsy until the afternoon due to your pain reliever and you cannot put one leg in front of the other, then ask to your doctor whether there is a better medicine for you. Don’t just go on with the same medication when it does more bad than good, but also don’t just stop without getting in touch with the doctor about it. Medication can affect everyone differently, and sometimes you will benefit more from another med, and have fewer side effects. It may take some experimenting before your doctor and you know the best way to go. Monitor this yourself. You are co-responsible for the treatment of your pain. Pull the alarm when medications do not help or if the remedy is worse than the disease. In addition to consultation with your doctor it may also be very productive to have a conversation with a pharmacist. They often have a better overview of your medication, especially when your medication has been prescribed by different doctors.
You’re not alone!
Did you know that as many as one in five adults in the western world has to deal with chronic pain? And even though this is unknown to a large part of the population, you must know that you are not the only one. One of the most important things for you to do is to communicate about your pain. Tell your family members and friends about how you feel and what it means to have to cope with pain day in and day out. If you don’t tell them and explain it to them, you can’t expect them to understand what you’re going through and what you need. Ask them for support and help. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness! Make sure you know exactly how you’re medically standing and share that with the people around you. If you have great difficulty with telling them feel free to use the ‘Letter to a friend‘.
Hundreds of tips, advice and pitfalls on the relationships with your partner, your children, your family members and friends can be found in the book ‘Coping with chronic pain, a team effort’. How do you turn the people around you in Strong Helpers? And for your family and friends: How do you become a Strong Helper? Find out in one of the 3 different ‘Coping with chronic pain, a team effort!’e-books on Amazon.
I wish you lots of luck with these good intentions and I hope 2017 will be a beautiful year for you, and a happy and healthy one. Painless if possible, but as this is probably not realistic, I wish you more acceptance, new possiblilities, chances, a better social network, and thereby an easier, happier and more valuable life.