Important Skills Your Need While Living With Chronic Pain

What is your first thought and action when you face a large obstacle like chronic pain?
  • Are you frustrated due to being unable to be active in the things you love?
  • Do you become angry about your circumstances?
  • Are you afraid for your future?

Frustration, anger, and fear.

While I do not believe that pain can be “thought away,” research shows that living with strong negative emotions keep us locked in the chronic “pain brain.”
 
They keep our brain “sensitive” to pain.
 
Our thoughts and emotions are part of our pain experience and are linked to brain activities that can increase or decrease sensitivity to pain signals throughout our bodies.
 
How do we face an obstacle like chronic pain while calming down this sensitive pain brain?
 
In the sports world, there is something called “The Process.” It’s a philosophy created by the University of Alabama coach Nich Saban, who taught his players to ignore the big picture and focus instead on doing the absolutely smallest thing well.
 
Focus less on important games, winning championships, and the opponent’s enormous lead.
Focus more on practicing with full effort, finishing a specific play, and converting on a single possession.
 
Focusing on and mastering one specific skill that lasts seconds and building other skills upon that foundation helps world-class athletes win at their sport. A season can last months, a game can last hours, but a single play takes seconds.
 
Following “The Process” when you live with chronic pain means utilizing and mastering small skills you have available in your Chronic Pain Self-Management Toolbox. Each tool is a “single play” to practice until mastered like world-class athletes.
 
A recent tool highlighted in the Chronic Pain Life Coaching toolbox series explained how Pacing can help you meet your goals on a regular basis, not the typical, too much activity leading to too much inactivity that creates a vicious cycle. Pacing is a foundational tool everyone living with chronic pain should utilize.
 

Five Steps To Being Better At Pacing When You Live With Chronic Pain

If you have had chronic pain very long you know about having “good days” and having “bad days.”

Good days are when our plans run according to our schedule and we happily go about our day checking things off of our list. Bad days generally mean how much the pain gets in the way of daily activities and frustrates our plans.
Multiple bad days in a row can leave you struggling to complete even the simplest of tasks such as daily hygiene. Sometimes bad days can even affect showering and brushing teeth.
So, how do we keep the “bad days” away? It is a really simple idea but sometimes hard to manage for complex reasons individual to each person, but learning to pace yourself is a good tool to start with when living with chronic pain.
Even though I am positive pacing should always be the main tool in everyone’s Chronic Pain SELF-Management Toolbox (free printable below) , I struggle myself with pacing my own activities. And I, like most, pay for it with many days of accomplishing little in the life I want to live.
So, join me in resolving to do better at pacing daily activities because without pacing yourself, the good days can slowly disappear beyond recognition without some thoughtful intervening.
So, let’s think about pacing as a tool in our Chronic Pain Self-Management Toolbox. These types of tools are always available to us and cost nothing. What does it mean to pace yourself if you have chronic pain?
  • · Effective pacing yourself means that YOU, rather than your pain, decide how your day is planned.
  • · Effective pacing allows you to accomplish some activities every day instead of one “good” day and multiple “bad” days.

Pacing, in short, is taking a break BEFORE you need it throughout the day.

Becoming aware of our pain and how, when, and what it takes to escalate it to debilitating levels will aide in utilizing pacing as a tool. Here are a few steps to begin pacing your activities as a tool for self-care and self-pain management.

1. First, let’s check-in.

We need to have a plan for our day. A critical part of that plan is checking in with our bodies when we live with pain. Set a timer on your phone to remember to check-in if you get too busy. Or, if you already know 2 hours of sitting is your limit, set a timer for 1 ½ hour to eliminate pain overload. Simply take a break from the activity in some way that relaxes you and set a timer for self-care so you get back to work on your task afterward.
 

2. Break things down.

Does a job feel completely overwhelming and out of control? If so, breaking up a large job into smaller tasks will help you accomplish your larger goal. Determine your overall goal then break it down. When you have a list to check off activities you will see that you are accomplishing the things you want to do in life. Remember to take breaks between tasks that are relaxing and refreshing.
 

3. Work slower.

Slow really does win the race for people living with chronic pain. Work at a slower, less intense pace and you will get more done. Be deliberate with your time by investing in a planner. Schedule slower pace time frames with short rests in between.
 

4. Increase time in small increments.

You can add small increments of time to activities to find your stopping point for optimum feel-good days. When you find you overdo it, go back down to the previous time frame for the activity. You will be running at optimum speed in no time.
 

5. Change tasks frequently.

Another really overlooked chronic pain self-management tip is to change your task often and use different parts of the body throughout the day. Be creative throughout your day. Do things on your list that require you to sit for a short duration, then change to standing or walking activities, whatever your abilities allow. Remember to take breaks.
 
TIP: Try not to get in the practice of using your “good days” to play “catch-up” and push yourselves too hard to catch up on all the things you couldn’t do on days when the pain was overwhelming. This can also create a cycle of too much activity and no activity. Beware of this and always pace yourself.
Subscribe to Chronic Pain Life Coaching’s blog to receive a free Pain Self-Management Action Plan printable worksheet. Making an action plan gives you an advantage over your chronic pain. Take back control of your life today with one plan at a time.
Using the free printable form will help you reach your goals faster.

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Changing begins with thinking about what pain is and does in our bodies, not just reacting when the pain is excruciating. Having a reminder of your action plan can help you to be mindful of your daily self-care choices which will, I promise, lead to more “good days” than “bad days.”
I am always available to help you achieve a higher level of well-being and performance in life and work particularly when change is hard. I will help you develop skills and use tools to make sustainable change for the good.
Book a free 30-minute consultation today. This discovery meeting is a chance for us to practice some of our core values: listen, learn, and serve. Let’s get to know each other.

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Your Body Hears Everything Your Mind Says

Know that “this too shall pass.”

Sounds simple doesn’t it, but when I am in the middle of a bad flare, this is a hard mantra to remember.  You would think that after a lifetime of chronic pain, I would remember this and stay calm, but it isn’t that easy. The first day of a painful flare, it’s annoying to go lay down multiple times during the day.  Then by the third or fourth day of being unable to do basic tasks, I go into catastrophizing.  My mind starts flashing scary questions like flash cards that carry me right into anxiety and worry: like, will I ever be able to leave the house again?, how will I cook for myself?, and then, anxiety bubbles over to panic, will I ever be able to do laundry or shop again, will I be able to drive again?  And they don’t stop there unless I stop them myself.

I have found mantras useful to help me get out of a “mind flare” when I cannot remember that “this too shall pass.” I have post-it notes everywhere, and I mean everywhere, to remind me of the simple thought, this too shall pass and other mantras that motivate me to be positive about my situation.  Because after all these years, I still forget this principal thought.

Have a Day Quote

I do not mean that the pain will pass and I will be all better.  I am only implying that peace will come back, and I will be able to smile and actually feel the joy again amid chronic pain. I will not experience a medical breakthrough, but a mental breakthrough and mantras help this process.

Mantras are a sentence or a group of words that bring you back to the reality you want to have in your life in the middle of struggles.  You can use mantras in any way that works for you.  Speak them aloud or in your head. Write them down or memorize them. Find a sentence, scripture, or a small grouping of words that inspire you to think more positively, and do it BEFORE you have an intense flare.    If you have a mantra memorized or on your fridge so that you see it during a flare; the words can bring you back to a healthier mental state.  We know through research that being in a tense mental state increases physical pain.  If you can reframe the negative situation in a positive light, it can help ease the pain flare from becoming worse.

For me, it doesn’t always work; I will admit.  Sometimes, I see a mantra that I thought might bring me back to lighter thoughts, but when I read it, “yea, right!” comes out of my mouth, and it does nothing for me.  It is difficult to pull myself out of this funk, but I just keep repeating them until I believe it.  Eventually, you will feel it.

My most favorite mantra is

“I will breathe.

I will think of solutions.

I will not let worry control me.

I will not let my stress level break me.

I will simply breathe.

And it will be okay.

Because I don’t quit.”

-Shayne McClendon (this is who it is attributed to on the internet. If anyone knows different, please let me know. I want to give the right person credit.)

Yesterday, I found my first list of mantras, dated in the fall of 2016, that I utilized to change my mind-set, and rereading them made me smile at how far I have come.  I remember how hard I struggled at changing my thoughts.  It was so hard but, I kept reading them every morning while I brushed my teeth and eventually a few of them stuck. After awhile,  I realized my mind was stronger than I thought.

Cindy’s List (from 2016)
Make peace with your past
    so it doesn’t disturb your future.
What other people think of you
    is none of your business.
The only person in charge
    of your happiness is you.
Don’t compare your life to others.
    Comparison is the thief of joy.
Time heals almost everything.
    Give it time.
STOP thinking so much.
     It’s alright not to know all the answers.

SMILE

You don’t own all the problems of the world.

Creating a mind shift in our thoughts from negative to positive helps us to get unstuck. When I’m in a flare, I feel like I have lost all control, but mantras bring me back to the reality of the situation that I do have control over my mind if not my body.  When the mind is a well-tuned instrument, a person can face all the difficult circumstances that living with chronic pain brings.

It is all about how we view things that affect us in our lives. The positive thoughts help me keep perspective of my situation, and that is something we all need in our lives.

Much Love & Many Prayers,

Cindy

Featured Photo by Natalya Letunova on Unsplash

 

 

The Robin By the Window

I have an exciting thing going on right outside of my window.  I have a robin’s nest within 3 feet of my bedroom window and only about an arm’s reach above my head.

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It is tucked neatly under a deck on pilings off of the second floor.  I first noticed it about two weeks ago, and I stood there to see if any birds were sitting on the nest.  It wasn’t long before a robin with a robust rust brown belly, and yellow beak flew under the deck and sat down. I got really excited and got on my tippy toes from inside of my bedroom, but I could not see any eggs when she flew away.

The next few days, I watched with curiosity trying to stay far enough away as not to spook her. I could not see anything. I just had to believe the eggs were there and wait. I knew the babies had hard work ahead of them to break through the shells, but there was something good coming.

I also enjoyed watching mommy robin hop along all over the back yard looking for worms in the lush green grass deep in the soggy ground.  When she was full, she would fly back and wiggle herself down onto the nest.  I just knew there had to be eggs.

After a few days of watching her, I began to see another robin helping her sit on the nest.  I decided it must have been daddy robin.  From Google, I found out that they both watch over the eggs and that the whole process only lasted two weeks.  I was scrambling trying to figure out how many days it had been since I first saw the nest.  I was not sure, but I continued watching every day and noticed how this bird just lived.  No concerns, no worries.  Everything is provided. A new life is being created.

A few more days passed, and I was looking for signs of babies when one of the adult robins flew back with a wiggly worm in its beak.  I did a quiet mini jump up and down session!  I had babies!  Well, the robin technically had the babies, but I was witnessing this event.  I was so excited. I’m sorry that I don’t have a high-speed camera to capture it, but I still wanted to share the pictures.

 

Oh, my gosh! They were hungry! At first, I could only see the pointy little beaks above the top of the nest.  But each day their scrawny featherless necks reached higher and demanded more food. I read that the male and female robins would fly back and forth as many as 100 times feeding the newly hatched babies every day. That was dedication along with fortitude; something that we also need to have when living with chronic pain.

So the baby birds grew each day, and I could tell their feathers were beginning to fluff up.  I am amazed at how fast and how much they change each day.  Two days ago, one of the two babies was very wobbly in the nest while trying to spread out his wings.  He just wasn’t sure exactly how to do it, but he keeps trying. Then today, both the birds were spreading out, taking up most of the nest so mom, or it could have been dad, sat on the 2×4 beside the nest.  They were obviously in the teenager stage, pushing the limits with their parents!  HA HA!

I checked on them a few times today, and they have not left the nest yet, but it will happen within a few days. I hope I don’t miss it.

I also found out that a robin is a sign of new beginnings or rebirth, and I thought that was so very appropriate to my life where it is right now. Maybe you can relate.

I started school to help me to be better equipped to help others that are living with chronic pain. I moved to a new state and to a town where I do not know anyone. That was big. I’ve had a lot of firsts in the past three months, causing me to need to reinvent myself again. It seems like that is precisely what life is about: constant change.

I am going through new beginnings in my life, and God has provided everything and every person that I need, and He will continue to do that for me. He will help you too.

On my hardest days, He provided a verse, a friend, or a robin to encourage me and guide me on this journey. I’ve found that we can accept the new beginnings that chronic pain brings. We don’t have to focus on the endings that pain brings to our lives. Don’t get stuck there.

I know you had a full life before chronic pain and you feel cheated. It is debilitating, and it can just stop you dead in your tracks. You think it’s all over, but it’s not just an ending of life as you knew it.

It is also the beginning of something new in your life.  It’s the beginning of the challenge of redefining yourself in a new way.

Is it easy to bring about this new birth?  No, think of the babies breaking through the shell and the work of feeding their new life.  It was a lot of work to fly back and forth to feed their babies 100 times a day.  There will be a lot of struggling to experience getting out of your comfort zone. It’s hard work to change your mindset.  It may be trial and error before you figure it out, but you will eventually find a new purpose in life while learning to accept the closing doors.

Just like the robins by the window, I see a new birth coming to fruition in life amid my chronic pain. You have a new story in you also.   This week I encourage you to look for that newness that you can bring to your life.

Much Love & Many Prayers,

Cindy

Lead Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Rest of Photos by Cindy