You made it through the winter holiday season. Congratulations! We hope Santa filled your stocking with thoughtful gifts, gadgets, gizmos and plenty of holiday cheer. Now it’s time to mentally prepare for a brand new year. That’s right: 2019 is practically here! So what are your New Year’s resolutions for chronic pain?
What steps will you take to get a better handle on your chronic pain management? In addition to physical pain, you may face stigma, sadness, frustration and fear because of your chronic condition. As you walk into 2019, we recommend taking inventory of your pain levels but also your mental well-being. Dedicate yourself to improving your quality of life by developing a mindset that allows for healthy coping and healing strategies. Let’s explore a few ways to prioritize your mental wellness on your list of New Year’s resolutions for chronic pain.
1) Disconnect from social media
Hopefully you’ve been able to keep your holidays stressors at bay by successfully managing your chronic pain through the holidays. But chances are that you feel a bit run down both physically and emotionally. It’s not uncommon for chronic pain patients to feel sadness, isolation, grief or loss. Oh, those dreaded holiday blues!
“Holidays are a great example of expectations exceeding reality for most people,” Ken Duckworth, a medical director who focuses on people with mental illness, explains. “I encourage people to reduce their media dose if they’re sensitive to this idea of mismatch between reality and fantasy.”
It makes sense that the “idealized images sold to people about what the holidays look like, and how they should feel” don’t always line up with our experiences or history with friends and family. This is especially true is you live with long-term chronic pain.
Taking a break from social media gives you the opportunity to refocus on your life outside of the digital world. It also helps you hone in on your specific needs so you can decide what steps make sense for you. Think about your pain management plan. Set a date to talk to your doctors. Spend time figuring out how to improve your self-care in 2019. Remind yourself to stay motivated and that you’re worth the effort.
2) Shush your negative self-talker
This is something I’ve discussed before. It may sound strange at first, but it’s a valuable exercise. Everyone sends themselves positive and negative messages. You might not even realize you do it. It’s the little voice in your head that thinks, “I can do this” or “No problem” or “That’s easy.” Think of it as your inner cheerleader.
Conversely, many of us – especially when we’re in constant pain – have an equally chatty negative self-talker who reminds us of what we can’t do and. It likes to point out worst case scenarios:
- “I can’t do that.”
- “I’m not smart enough.”
- “That will hurt.”
- “I’ll be in pain forever.”
- “My life is worthless.”
When you’re in constant pain, many of your negative talk tracks can also spark more unwanted feelings like anger, frustration, hopeless and discouragement. Psychologists call this catastrophic thinking.
Your body’s response to these internal messages is more significant than you might think.
In fact, in “the largest federally funded non-drug clinical trial for irritable bowel syndrome” researchers found that “more than 60% of the patients reported substantial improvement in their GI symptoms in just four or fewer visits to the psychologist, plus doing the work at home.” From deep breathing exercises and to changing their self-talk, the over 400 participants saw improvements to their mental well-being and decreased “catastrophize events and other known triggers.”
What does this mean for you? It means it’s crucial to take note of what your brain is telling your body. Stop yourself when you hear your own negative self talk and write it down. Then decide if the message is valid. Shushing your negative self talk takes time, but it’s definitely a beneficial goal for the new year.
3) Recognize that your mental health matters
Speaking as someone who has lived with chronic pain for almost five years, I understand how impossible – and perhaps stupid or cheesy – it sounds to encourage you to have a positive outlook. I recognize that. But your mental health is supremely important. You’re the only one who knows just how much you’re suffering.
Earlier this month, the topic of mental health and suicide has captured headlines again after a TV anchor in Detroit took her life at the age of 35. She was said to be in constant pain after Lasik eye surgery. It’s widely believed she took her life because she couldn’t live with the pain. She was an on-air meteorologist, a wife and a mother of two small children. Her death was indeed a horrific tragedy that could’ve been prevented.
If you’re living with chronic pain, you’ve probably been trapped in some deep, dark places in your mind too. Without going down a rabbit hole about depression, I’ll just say when constant pain takes over your life with no escape, you might entertain thoughts that would otherwise never cross your mind.
More than 47,000 Americans killed themselves in 2017. The United States has seen an overall decline in life expectancy, and the suicide rate has climbed 33% since 1999. While a quarter of a million people do survive suicide attempts, a study of survivors indicates 9 out of 10 people who try attempt suicide will die by suicide later.
But many of those who have survived suicide recognize that it might not have been a desire to die that prompted them to act. It may have been a desire to escape their pain.
“If I could go back to talk to myself that night, when all I could hear in my head was ‘You can’t live like this anymore, you can’t live like this anymore’,” Shelby Rowe, a PTSD and suicide attempt survivor who works in suicide prevention, said. “I would have said: ‘It’s OK, you’re right. It is really awful right now, and you can’t live like this anymore, but please live, because there is another way. There is another beautiful life waiting for you.'”
As you begin the new year with a fresh start, give yourself the freedom to ask for help if you need it. Give yourself the chance to get it as well. There’s nothing easy about seeking pain relief from a chronic condition, but there are people who can help you. It’s the perfect time of year to take small steps to reduce your pain and to seek creative ways to manage your life with your chronic illness.
What will you include on your list of New Year’s resolutions for chronic pain?
We want to applaud your sense of accomplishment, so tell us about it in the comments below!
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