by author Arielle Haughee
Mindset Tricks for Calming Chronic Pain
I threw out the top of my femur for no good reason. No joke. After three previous procedures on my hip, I finally had a hip replacement. At 37. This had to be the solution for my chronic pain, right? Wrong. I can’t seem to escape living with pain.
As an editor who removes overused phrases, I won’t say “constant companion,” but I will say that pain is like a giant leech stuck on me at all times, seemingly sucking the life out of me.
There are days when I am completely waylaid by pain, stuck in bed trying not to grit my teeth and pop another crown. Other days I appear normal—smiling, out-and-about—managing an inconvenience so it doesn’t turn into a three-headed beast. The key is to not let pain, that vile leech, control my life entirely.
So here are some mindset tricks I’d like to share for anyone else who has to deal with chronic pain.
Focus on What you CAN Control
One of the most frustrating parts of living with chronic pain is how it takes over your life and can completely upend your plans, rendering you “useless” for the rest of the day (or days). It’s immensely infuriating. One thing I’ve learned to do so I don’t lose my mind completely is to focus on what I can control when things feel completely out of control.
Make a list in your mind or even on paper of everything you have control over in that moment, even if you are stuck in bed. I always start by telling myself that I control my thoughts and my words. I can decide how to think about the pain and if I want to talk about it to someone.
What else can you control in that moment? Even thinking of little things can help your mindset. Some examples include what you’re wearing, the lighting in the room, what you are watching, etc. List as many things as you can in your mind to remind yourself that you are in control of your life, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Use Mindset Mitigating Techniques for Pain
One of the biggest blessings in my life has been the amazing therapists that have helped me develop an arsenal of strategies to use to help mitigate the pain. Sometimes little things can make a bigger difference than you might think.
People who’ve experienced labor and delivery can attest to the importance of deep, measured breaths. This is usually the number one recommendation for pain, so I’ll skip it.
One Object Focus: Pick out one object in the room and focus on it completely. Where did you get it? How do you think it was made? Who do you think made it? And so on...think everything you can about that one particular item.
Calming Scents: Lavender is well known for its calming properties, so is bergamot. Try out different candles, essential oils, incense, or even dryer sheets to help provide aromatherapy.
PMR: This stands for progressive muscle relaxation. You start at the bottom of your body, clenching your toes and releasing, then to your calves, clenching and releasing, then work all the way up your body to your face. There are some great scripts for this online. I recommend checking out this one.
These are just a few strategies to mitigate pain. Try them and others out and see what works best for you.
The Link Between Depression and Chronic Pain
The National Library of Medicine states that "up to 85% of patients with chronic pain are affected by severe depression." Mayo Clinic further explores the relationship between the two: "Sometimes pain and depression create a vicious cycle in which pain worsens symptoms of depression, and then the resulting depression worsens feelings of pain."
So taking care of your mental health can also help in some way with the severity of your chronic pain. If your depression has gotten so bad you feel like you can't live another day in pain, please get help.
Play Up Your Positives
One good strategy to help with your mental health is to play up the positives in your life. What things are going well? What are you grateful for? Think about things that made you smile recently and things that you are proud of. Also think about something that you are looking forward to each day. This helps remind you that there is brightness in the future, even if the current moment seems dark.
Set Realistic Goals for Yourself
Having goals for yourself can help keep you focused and working towards something positive. You also have to consider that you may be sidetracked by pain from time to time, so set goals you know you can realistically achieve. Are you looking to try a new hobby? See friends more? Volunteer at church or a community center? Determine what you are interested in achieving and break down your goal into manageable tasks to increase your chances of success.
Chronic pain will always be an obnoxious leech, but it doesn’t have to control who you are or how you live your life. You can still be a wonderful, productive version of yourself. Using these strategies will hopefully make life a little easier for you and help with those really tough days. So, pour some salt on that leech and live your life!