A funny story is told about the man who slipped and caught his arm on a sharp nail sticking out from the wall. He yelled out in agony and called for his servant. But when the servant came, he remarked that only the man’s sleeve was caught on the nail, not his arm. And immediately, the carpenter said he felt no more pain!
Stories like this often make us laugh because the pain “was only in his head” – there was no physical injury that caused the pain. But the case for chronic pain is very different. Chronic pain is not “in the head”. It is a real pain that can only be understood by those living with it. Moreover, it can severely impact lives and affect day-to-day activities.
Pain affects your emotions
Pain is connected to our emotions and feelings. Patients living in chronic pain often experience fear, distress, anxiety and a sense of losing control on their lives. The fact that chronic pain is one of the leading causes of disability only makes the situation worse. Moreover, 1 in 3 people living with chronic back pain have reported feeling depressed. Scientists are not sure how depression is linked to chronic pain but the two are often seen together.
Pain causes stress which causes more pain...
People who are in pain are often more anxious and stressed. Trouble is, stress causes the muscles of the body to get tensed which can make the pain feel even worse.
Pain forces people to change their behaviour can change behaviour
Pain has a direct impact on how people cope with their day-to-day activities. People often stop going outdoors because climbing stairs becomes a difficult task. Others, whose work involve carrying and lifting heavy equipment at work for e.g., cooks and chefs who lift heavy pots and pans at work, have to find other ways to do the same job. Taking multiple pain medication also makes patients feel very tired and drowsy and limits what they can do during the day. Older patients feel frustrated that they cannot play with their grandchildren or go with their families on vacation. Others don’t like having to rely on family members to help them with routine household tasks. Patients have reported that they cannot attend functions or social events since they’re forced to wear sports shoes all the time.
... But you can still smile
No one said that living with chronic pain was easy. But here are some ways to make living with it a little easier to deal with:
- Don’t focus your attention on your pain. It will only make it worse. Studies suggest that distracting yourself during painful episodes can reduce how intensely you feel pain.
- Stop the scary movie in your head. Very often, people with chronic pain will allow themselves to think of the worst possible scenarios. They imagine becoming disabled, totally dependent on others, quitting their job because of the pain, being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives etc. etc. Quit doing that. Doctors call this “catastrophizing” (from the word “catastrophe”) and it does not help you at all, it just makes a bad situation that much worse!
- Get help: Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Find a psychologist in your area or join a support group. Hearing stories first hand from others who are dealing with similar situations will make your pain a little easier to bear and also help you strive to do more.