Engaging Your Mind: Strategies for Managing Chronic Pain

Engaging Your Mind: Strategies for Managing Chronic Pain

Courtesy of Jackie Waters of

We’re conditioned to think of pain as one symptom of a treatable problem, something that’ll go away with time and medication. Aspirin can chase away the worst of headaches. The searing pain of an inflamed appendix disappears after the source of the problem is removed. Here one day, gone the next. Finding out you have a condition that causes lasting, chronic pain is a cataclysmic life event, especially if you’re accustomed to an active lifestyle without physical limits or medical encumbrances. Chronic pain means you’re facing a new life, a new reality that forces you to deal with pain every day. This time it isn’t going away.

Accepting the truth is jarring because it means you have to find ways to manage your pain, to admit that it’s part of you now. It’s a form of loss because it restricts you in ways that are completely alien. But you need to move beyond the idea that you’re accommodating pain and understand that from now on you’re managing it and mitigating its influence on your life. Chronic pain is a condition, it’s not a death sentence.

A Holistic Approach

For decades, doctors have controlled pain by prescribing opioid painkillers in staggering amounts, a trend that’s created a national addiction crisis. But there’s increasing evidence that a solely prescriptive approach to pain management is not only ineffective in the long run, but can aggravate a patient’s condition and do more harm than good. The American Psychological Association has called for a more balanced approach, one that incorporates therapy and psychological methods in establishing a more robust means of controlling pain.

Coping with chronic pain means observing healthy mental and physical habits. Eating healthy foods, getting at least seven hours of sleep, and exercising on a regular basis are important. It’s also important to distract yourself, to busy your mind with activities and exercises that prevent you from dwelling on the pain and feeling like a victim. Try visualizing pain as an object, something that can be stored away out of sight and out of mind. Pursuing a hobby or reading a book can engage your mind completely in positive activity.

Also, keeping your house free of allergens, pollutants, or irritants will help reduce the likelihood of inflammation, which can make your chronic pain much worse. In addition to switching to all-natural cleaning products (harsh chemicals can sometimes cause flare-ups), selecting a vacuum that thoroughly cleans your floors can help matters tremendously. For example, while hardwood floors are relatively easy to clean, you’ll need a vacuum with high suction to help eliminate dirt and grime from tile flooring. Not surprisingly, there are countless models on the market, so make sure you find a good tile-friendly vacuum before buying one.

Social Engagement

Spending quality time with friends and family members — supportive people who care about you — is a reassuring and healing way to cope with pain. Go to the movies with a loved one, or have coffee and discuss a favorite subject with someone you enjoy being around. Remember, you’re less likely to feel the pain if your mind isn’t zeroed in on your condition, so find ways to avoid dwelling on physical symptoms of pain.

Movement and Exercise

Many pain management experts advise caution when it comes to exercise. Overly strenuous exertion can exacerbate your condition and make it more difficult to manage the pain. Instead, try some stretching exercises that enhance muscle flexibility, which will help reduce pain-producing muscle contractions. Yoga and meditation exercises are also effective practices. Measured abdominal breathing and mindful muscle relaxation work for many people, who learn to focus on the source of tension in the body.

A Stress-Free Home

Surround yourself with an uncluttered space, a refuge from stress that emphasizes green plants and soft light. Incorporate soft and relaxing music, the hum and vibration of ambient noise or even the soft whirring of a fan. Take some time to clean out your closets and drawers, ridding yourself of belongings you no longer need or want. You might be surprised at how therapeutic a little home purging can be.

Always bear in mind that pain is a physical and mental phenomenon. It may never completely go away, but you do have the ability to minimize its severity and its ability to control you. Embrace a holistic strategy for managing pain, one which shuns an over-reliance on pharmacological solutions that offer temporary relief but tempt you to overlook more lasting coping strategies.