How do you live with pain that is overwhelming and feels like it is never going to end? It stops you in your tracks and can make it seem impossible to live life in an enjoyable and relaxing way. It can make you tired, irritable and unable to get any comfort. Why does it hurt so much? How do you make it stop? How do you self manage your pain?
Unlike cars you don’t come with warning lights. Our vehicles have lights on the dashboard that let you know when the car is low on oil, petrol or that there is a technical problem. We have feelings of hunger and thirst and the sensation of pain that let’s us know when our bodies need taking care of and pain is an important signal that shouldn’t be ignored.
If your pain is continuous and you need to take painkillers for more than a few days consult your doctor.
When there is an injury to your body, it is being damaged in some way or something else is wrong, your nerves (the cells that help your body send and receive information) send millions of messages to your brain signalling what’s going on. Your brain then makes you feel pain and discomfort.
See pain as a positive thing
Whilst pain makes you miserable and unable to concentrate it is a protective function and messaging system. It helps you learn for example, if you put your hand on a hot cooker ring. Your nerves communicate to your brain, and your brain them immediately sends a message that your hand hurts. You get this message and straight away pull your hand away from the hot cooker; this then stops your hand experiencing any more pain. You learn from this experience that something hot will hurt and you avoid putting your hand on a hot cooker ring in the future and avoid further injury.
If you pay attention to your body when you sense pain, you then can take steps to fix what is hurting or causing the pain. Pain also helps us prevent ourselves from injuring a body part even more. If it didn’t hurt to walk on a broken leg, you might keep walking on it and cause more damage.
Pain is a good thing, it’s just makes us feel pretty lousy.
Degrees of pain – it all hurts
Have you ever noticed that when you experience pain it can be unbearable yet when someone else has pain it doesn’t register with you how much pain has been a problem for you in the past? And vice versa you don’t always get the sympathy you expect. I guess this works in a similar way to child birth the pain is quickly forgotten else women wouldn’t go though it a second time.
If you’ve had your breastbone cut for a cardiac operation, you may feel quite stiff around your shoulders and chest. You’ll have been taught how to use a pillow or rolled up towel to help support your chest. This can help ease any discomfort and help support your chest when you cough.
If you’ve had coronary artery bypass surgery the wound in your leg or arm may also feel tight and itchy for the first few weeks.
Even when stents have been fitted you might experience pain. I know I did, it was particularly when I turned on my left side at night.
If you experience headaches, toothaches and migraines they can be just as debilitating as major surgery.
If you have fibromyalgia, it is likely that you experience continuous widespread pain. It is often felt throughout all of your body; sometimes it is worse in specific areas such as your back, shoulders or neck.
What’s the solution?
We have over the counter painkillers, we have medication that is prescribed for us by our medical teams and yet sometimes it’s just not enough. Even after taking the maximum dose the ache and pain can return, moving hurts, not moving hurts and even if we try ignoring the pain it still hurts.
Here are my five top tips to help you self manage your pain and discomfort.
1. Relax into it …
Pain, tension and discomfort can feel so much worse if you hold yourself up tight. It can be really difficult to relax your body and your mind but it really can have a fantastic effect.
Try holding yourself up tight, shoulders up by your ears, tension in your jaw and hold you tummy muscles tight. Hold your breath in and only breathe shallow breaths.
Now exhale all the way out, drop your shoulders down, relax your jaw and let go of you tummy muscles. Breathe slowly and calmly. It’s amazing the difference it makes and it only takes a few moments to create the change.
2. Let it go …
Try this NLP exercise. This activity can be done with your eyes open or closed. As you follow through the steps of this activity in your mind use a soothing gentle tone of voice to describe what you see and hear in your imagination.
- Get comfortable and take a few deep breaths.
- Take a moment to notice where you feel the pain or discomfort, where is it specifically?
- Describe to yourself what the pain would look and feel like. Imagine what shape it is? What colour is it? What size, width, length & depth? Is it smooth or rough, hot or cold?
- For example: What size is it? How wide? Long? How deep is it? What shape is it? What colour is the shape? Does it have a rough or smooth surface? Is it hot, warm or cool? Is it hard or soft?
- Now imagine moving that shape out in front of you so it’s floating and you can see it. Find out more about the shape. What happens when you move it around, make it bigger or smaller etc.
- Ask your shape questions such as: What do you really represent? What message do you have? What do you need?
- Pay attention to any answers that come to mind. You might learn something interesting. Then confirm with yourself that you are you ready to let this shape go. If you have any doubts come to mind then ask yourself: What needs to happen for me to let that shape go now?
- Next you can begin to make some changes to that shape.
- What would be a soothing colour? Change the colour of the shape. What is a more comfortable shape? Change the shape and find the one that feels better. Make it smaller or bigger, which size improves the feeling the most? Move it closer or further away, again choose the position that creates the better feeling. Try moving it around if it is static, swinging gently in front of you perhaps.
- After you have changed enough elements to feel good, imagine that shape dissolving in front of you there maybe evaporating away, maybe jetting off into space, perhaps disappearing as magic dust. It could get larger and larger, thinner and thinner until it disappears from sight. Just let it go in any way that seems the most appropriate for you.
- Then take a couple more deep relaxing breaths and notice how much better you are feeling now.
3. Be in the now …
There have been many studies over the last few years that show that mindfulness and meditation can reduce pain by as much as 25%, I have also read this figure can be higher. See if you can find a mindfulness class nearby or even online.
Try this meditation technique for just 5-10 minutes each day.
- Get comfortable in a chair and relax. Place your feet flat on the floor; your hands loosely on your lap. Close your eyes, concentrate on your breathing for a few breaths.
- In your imagination take yourself to your favourite place, somewhere you enjoy and feel safe. Maybe a beach, woodlands, a park, in the country or even in town. Imagine all the little details, what you would see, hear, smell and feel.
- As you become more relaxed start counting from 1 to 10 and back from 10 to 1. Do this slowly and rhythmically maybe in line with your breathing over and over gently in your mind. If your thoughts wander off, gently notice that they have accepting that it is okay and take your mind back to counting 1 to 10 again.
4. All is well …
It’s not just the pain that hurts it is your mind that suffers too. All you want to do is escape the pain, to make it go away and your mind can make it worse. If you listen carefully you can notice things that you say to yourself like ‘I can’t cope with this’, ‘It is never going to end’, I can’t bear this pain’ and ‘What if it doesn’t get any better’.
Whist this might be how you feel it isn’t very useful in helping you manage the pain. Move yourself in to a more positive and resourceful state by using affirmations.
Repeat your affirmations throughout the day, make them part of your routine for instance when brushing your teeth, or driving etc. Here are some useful affirmations to start you off:
- I find it easy to relax
- My mind is calm at all times
- I easily release all tension I have in my mind and body
- I am in control of the pain
- Every day I find it easier to control my pain
- Each day I feel less and less pain
5. Write it out …
Keep a journal it’s a good idea to help you understand your pain, keep tabs on your medication and give you something to share with your doctor.
Go on give them a go!
What have you go to lose other than that old pain that you didn’t want anyway! Leave me a comment and let me know which worked best for you. Or have you got other suggestions that you can share?
Remember the positive things about pain, and that nothing stays the same. Use any or all of the techniques above but do always contact your doctor if things don’t improve or get worse. Let me know how you get on in the comments below.