Chronic pain can be extremely debilitating. The difference between chronic and acute (temporary) pain is that the first one bothers us every single day or most days of the year. It can take motivation and joy away from us if we let it. I am not going to lie, I am the one to focus on my pain way too much. Here I talk about the connection between chronic pain and mental health so if you are interested, give it a read before you come back to this post.
I have been dealing with chronic pain for more than 10 years now. Some details about my condition can be found here. Recently I have been focusing more on CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) for my anxiety, and I found that maybe, just maybe, some of that principles can be applied to chronic pain as well. And it turns out they can.
Psychologist John Gottman came up with 5 steps to mindfully deal with difficult emotions (emotion coaching). According to chiropractor Dr. Ya-Ling Liou, same 5 steps can be applied to pain, so I am sharing them here with you.
Pay attention to your pain
Awareness is very important when we are talking about emotions, as well as about pain. Most of the times we pay attention to our feelings about pain, our frustration and annoyance. Well, instead, it's recommended to pay attention to pain itself.
It can be hard as we tend to try to avoid feeling pain, using medication, or distracting ourselves. However, listening carefully to our body is the first step to healing it.
Name and describe your pain
How does your pain feel and how would you describe it? According to Dr. Liou, many people have difficulty describing their pain, because they don't really pay attention to it. I think I am the same way.
I have always struggled trying to describe my anxiety. When my therapist asked me: "How does it feel?" I couldn't find the right words. I could always easily say I hate my anxiety though.
Finding words to describe our pain, can make it less scary, says Dr. Liou.
Validate your pain
It's important not to deny that the pain is there, same as the emotion. Being in denial may only intensify unpleasunt feelings we experience as we are not working on addressing them in a healthy way.
Your pain is real, you are not making it up, and it's not a sign of weakness to admit it. In today's world I would even take it as a sign of inner strength and confidence. If you are strong enough to admit you are struggling and need help, you may as well be strong enough to seek help and get better.
Learn from it
According to Dr. Liou, there is usually a reason for pain. Reconnecting with the context helps us to discover what that reason was, she says. And sometimes the reason can be psychological (which happens often when we are talking about chronic pain). If that's the case, it doesn't mean "it's in our head", but it means that the treatment will be different.
This is when we seek help. It's important not to ignore pain, hence why all previous steps, but the main goal is always to find something that will if not heal, ease our suffering.
I know it's easy to get discouraged, because chronic pain is very persistent, but I strongly believe validating it and learning from it can be helpful in our journey. As doctors kept telling me "there's nothing wrong there", I had to start looking for ways how I could possibly help myself, and I am still learning. I am not scared of my pain anymore, and I am working hard on its acceptance. I am going to talk about it in my future posts. Let me know if this post was helpful in the comments. I hope to see you here next time on Pillows&Trees.