How Are Stress and Chronic Pain Connected?


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How Are Stress and Chronic Pain Connected?

Coping With Stress and Chronic Pain

Nowadays, stress can come in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s work, family, finances, or even cheering for your favorite sports team as a close game is determined in the final seconds.

When stress brought on from dealing with chronic pain is added on, that’s when stress levels are taken to an entirely different level!

For those who do not suffer from an invisible illness, coping with this additional stress can be hard to understand. But for people dealing with one of the many types of chronic pain, navigating this added stress can feel like you’re riding an emotional rollercoaster.

I suffer from early onset osteoarthritis (OA) in my right ankle. After two major surgeries I have limited range of motion and a constantly swollen ankle joint.

The pain comes and goes, and I wear an Arizona brace to help manage the OA. But when the pain flares-up, my stress levels can go through the roof.

Over the years I’ve experimented with a variety of tools to better cope with the stress. While many of them didn’t work for me, a few have. Here are five tools I’ve found that can be useful when coping with stress brought on by chronic pain:

1. Meditation

Taking a moment each day to quiet the mind can make a huge difference in learning the manage stress levels. The good thing about meditation for chronic pain is that it can be done sitting on the couch, lying down, or just about anywhere. The only thing needed is a quiet place for the mind to relax.

Two common types of mediation for chronic pain are:

  • Mindfulness meditation. This is done sitting down, eyes closed, with the back straight. The focus is on breathing in and out in a relaxing, even pace.
  • Transcendental meditation. This is done while a person sits in a comfortable position, eyes closed, and silently repeats a mantra, which is a particular sound or short phrase such as “I am strong.”

2. Create a Daily Routine

Creating a daily routine doesn’t itself take away the pain or stress. But on the days when pain flare-up causing more stress, having a routine can simplify the day and remove any unexpected situations that add to an already stressful day.

Here’s an example of what a daily routine could look like:

  • 6:30 AM: Wake up
  • 6:45 – 7:15: Light stretching and exercises
  • 7:15 AM: Get ready for work
  • 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM: Work
  • 6:00 PM: Dinner
  • 7:00 PM: Spending time with family/friends
  • 8:00 – 8:15 PM: Meditate
  • 8:30 PM: Exercises
  • 9:30 – 10:00 PM: Reading and Journaling
  • 10:00 PM: Bed

3. Low-Impact Exercise

Exercising can be hard to do when chronic pain really acts up, but doing some form of exercising helps manage stress for the long term. Even on the worst days, setting a small goal like walking up five stairs can help the mind cope with the emotional rollercoaster caused by chronic pain.

The types of exercises will depend on the type of chronic pain you have. Typically, swimming in a warm pool is considered the best option because floating in water takes pressure off the joints. Other common exercises are yoga, walking, stretching and strength training.

Exercises to be avoided include running, jumping, and other high-impact movements.

4. Find a Support Group

Finding people who suffer from chronic pain is a great way to talk about how the pain is affecting your life. Hearing from others who are in the same boat as you can be comforting.

A support group can be face-to-face or even online. There are a lot of great online resources to find people wanting to learn how to better manage chronic pain that offer a wide range support.

A quick Google search for “support groups for chronic pain” is an easy place to begin. As more research into support groups is done, you’ll be able to find groups that focus on the type of pain you have and provide additional resources to help with coping.

5. Join a Self-Management Pain Program

A self-management pain program is designed to work with existing treatments, and hopefully enhance their results. The focus of self-management pain programs is to help individuals better coordinate the aspects of their lives affected by chronic pain and to help them keep their lives as actively as possible.

In addition to those mentioned above, other topics can include effective communication with family and health care professions, proper nutrition, exercise tips, balancing a busy life with limitations brought on by chronic pain.

There is no surefire way of reducing stress brought on by chronic pain. Having the tools to be better equipped to cope with increased stress levels can mean the difference between an OK day and a terrible one.

And while it may seem that increases in chronic pain and stress go hand in hand, being able to better reduce the stress through the tools mentioned above can allow for more focus on properly managing chronic pain.

Ryan RankinRyan Rankin

Ryan was diagnosed with early onset osteoarthritis in his right ankle at 28 years old. Since then, he’s had two ankle surgeries, numerous ankle braces, and countless hours of physical therapy. Even with OA, he still tries to remain active, by backpacking and fishing or just hanging out with friends. You can read more about his life with OA on his blog.

Dec 13, 2016
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