The most obvious solution to make pain go away or at least relieve it is to go to the doctor, get the right treatment and then go on with our lives pain free. But what if we experience chronic pain and a visit to the doctor helps nothing, or at least very little?
Chronic pain is one of the biggest challenges in many medical disciplines. Because what happens if nothing makes the pain go away? How do you manage something as annoying and exhausting as constant pain?
People with chronic pain feel as if a thousand needles are constantly being poked into their bodies. You can see how this situation affects them, not only physically, but also emotionally and psychologically. Not to mention their relationships.
The constant stress they are subjected to, along with the problems chronic pain creates, can shake their relationships, worldview, and whole life.
It will not only be difficult for the person with chronic pain. Our neighbors will also suffer in some way. Especially when there is ignorance, lack of understanding or fatigue.
Because they too have felt different kinds of pain throughout their lives, they think they have the ability to empathize.
However, because pain is such a subjective thing, it is very difficult to get into the skin of the person who is suffering.
What can psychology mean for chronic pain?
Pain is a warning from our body that tells us that something is not right. But what happens if the pain – after following medical recommendations – persists?
Life can become extremely exhausting. Daily activities will no longer bring us joy because they make us suffer. And we will have but little hope for the future.
This feeling of being at the mercy of pain like a leaf in the wind is very damaging to one’s self-image.
It is true that the degree of disability due to chronic pain varies in each person’s situation. However, regardless of the degree of autonomy and functionality each person has, people with chronic pain will often feel limited and frustrated.
In general terms, experts call it chronic pain if it lasts for more than six months and medical or surgical treatments don’t help.
And while there may be medications to relieve symptoms, psychotherapy can also be very helpful in these cases.
Acceptance and empowerment through psychology can enhance one’s sense of control over one’s own life.
Dealing with pain
There are several techniques to treat chronic pain. In this article we will focus on the techniques in the ‘Manual Del Dolor’, or the ‘Pain Manual’ (Moix and Kovacs, 2009).
One of the most important formulas for growing in adversity is to know how what affects us works. When we understand the problem, we can create better strategies and thereby reduce the stress of uncertainty.
This is how we become experts in concentration. Learning how to direct our attention is fundamental to realizing how much power we have over pain.
Being able to focus our attention on relaxing stimuli, instead of focusing on that debilitating pain, will be of great help.
Here’s one more thing to keep in mind. The uneasiness that arises from feeling discouraged will only fuel the illness. Anxiety, stress and sleeping problems will only aggravate the pain.
Now that we know this, we can work in the opposite direction. That is, our emotions, thoughts, and behavior focus on a little bit of health rather than contributing to our pain. As insignificant as it may be, it will help us make things work in our favor.
Let’s do it
Once we understand that we can actively address the problem, we can start working on it. Some great ways to take action include:
- Relaxation and breathing: this is essential to relieve muscle tension. Relaxation is not just lying down and physically loosening up at the muscle level, but also other methods such as going to the cinema, dining out, listening to music, calling a friend, walking… which also helps us to disconnect.
- Emotions: These are another important part of the process. Knowing them, understanding how they affect the pain and working on techniques to distance themselves from them can be very helpful.
- Communicating in a healthy way: It is understandable that complaining in a situation of chronic pain becomes a way of life. If we work on the way we express ourselves and communicate the same message in a different way, we can improve our relationships.
- Restore old and healthy habits: It is normal to stop doing activities that we used to enjoy, including everyday things, because they have become more difficult. But getting back to our old ways, even the little pleasures, will help us build a better life.
- Making a plan with our therapist: Knowing what filters our thinking and what cognitive distortions keep us from changing our thinking patterns is fundamental.
As you can see, chronic pain affects not only our bodies, but also our thoughts, relationships and emotions. It may be invisible, but it has a huge impact on our lives.