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Coping with Chronic Pain

painPatricia hardly ever leaves her house. In fact, she hardly ever leaves her sofa. Years of chronic pain have left her depressed, lonely and hopeless.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Ralph Monte, PsyD, post-doctoral fellow in Health Psychology, offers some tips on coping with chronic pain.

“First off, we help you realize that the pain doesn’t have to go away before you have to go on with your life. That’s one of the main obstacles to pain management,” says Dr. Monte.

“Pain is a very complex phenomenon, and, unfortunately, there aren’t always cures for pain — especially when we’re dealing with chronic pain. If that’s the case, life is still there to be lived regardless. You can either let the pain rule you,” Dr. Monte says, “or you can take control over it. That’s where pain management begins.”

“Our goal is to help you see that there is life with chronic pain and that you don’t have to suffer as a result.”

Dr. Monte suggests a bimodal approach for coping with chronic pain: lifestyle modifications and cognitive therapy.

 Lifestyle Modifications

“There are signification emotional components to pain. Pain isn’t just the signals your body sends to your brain. It can also be magnified by our emotional states. When we’re feeling very anxious, sad or depressed, it exacerbates our pain experience,” explains Dr. Monte.

“Learning to take control of our mood states actually helps reduce our pain experience,” Dr. Monte says.

Relaxation Techniques

Because your mind and body are very much interrelated, when you relax one, you relax the other, Dr. Monte says.

Dr. Monte suggests these activities to relax the mind and body to reduce your pain:

  • The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbooka book that overviews different relaxation techniques and general principles of stress
  • Deep breathing – where you breathe slowly and forcibly, focusing on each breath
  • Yoga – where you are mentally in the activity, taking your mind away from focusing on the pain
  • Guided imagery – focusing on a particular image or experience to put your mind in a certain state away from the pain
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – where you alternatingly flex and relax your muscles, providing systematic relief throughout your body
Distractive Techniques

“Many patients are waiting for their pain to go away,” Dr. Monte says, “but there’s no guarantee that will happen, so I encourage patients to develop distractive techniques because when they’re not thinking about the pain, they’re actually hurting less.”

Dr. Monte offers these distractive techniques for getting your mind off your pain:

  • Exercise – Even a little physical activity can help lessen the pain experience as well as improve sleep
  • Leisure – Find solace in hobbies that speak to self-care, because when you take care of yourself, your body will treat you better, Dr. Monte advises
    • Writing or journaling
    • Art or other creative endeavors
    • Cooking
  • Spirituality – Drawing upon your religious or spiritual practices, such as:
    • Praying
    • Singing
    • Meditating
    • Reading texts

Cognitive Therapy

In helping you cope with chronic pain, Dr. Monte says, health psychologists help you understand that “the thoughts you hold in the front of your mind and also in the back of your mind — the thoughts you don’t even realize — can predispose you to and exacerbate your emotional distress — and that includes pain.”

Health psychologists often suggest cognitive therapy to help manage your pain: “Change the thoughts and you’ll change the emotions and you’ll change the experience,” says Dr. Monte.

To explain: “We all have thought distortions. Here, we train you to learn to recognize these distortions so that you can challenge them, change your thought pattern, change your perspective – and in doing so, change your emotions and your pain experience,” says Dr. Monte.

“Our goal,” Dr. Monte says, “is to help you see that there is life with chronic pain and that you don’t have to suffer as a result. The pain may still be there, but the suffering doesn’t have to be.”

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Coping with Chronic Pain