By Meta Bobbe and Adam Brady
Pain is a component of many conditions, chronic pain limits life activity and vitality – it is pervasive in its effect and reach. Up to 20% of adults in the US have or have had chronic pain. The effects of chronic pain on one’s body and mind are real and challenging. When suffering from a chronic pain condition, it is hard to focus on anything because the pain is always in the background of your experience, it is literally taking up your mental space. It can be hard to be as present with others, and it can be challenging to take care of yourself. If you’re suffering from chronic pain, it’s important to remember that these challenges are ‘natural’, your body and mind are processing the pain the best they can.
At Tend, we recognize that dealing with chronic pain is a process. Here are few ideas that we’ve found helpful in supporting shifts in pain and its effect on daily life:
1. Releasing the tension and strain associated with your condition:
It is vital to identify the important posture and movement patterns that create and exacerbate pain flairs. Through awareness-based exercises that contribute greater understanding about how we move, we can minimize such stressors and accumulated strain effects on the body, maximizing the potential to live with enjoyment and ease.
The next time you do something that causes a spike of pain, try slowing down your response, instead of rushing through it and moving on to the next task, take some time to contemplate the movement. With gentle awareness and movement, explore if there were any particular nuances of the way you moved that can be shifted, however subtly, to shift the pain it created. Try repeating the same movement in slow motion a couple of times to encourage new habits and help the body feel ‘safe’ in them.
2. Developing lifestyle accommodations and exercise routines that work for you:
Rather than applying more general, cookie-cutter exercise routines, tailored exercises allow your unique and current needs to be taken into account. It is of utmost importance to honor your present limitations, and to adapt accordingly without judgment. Part of the work is decreasing pressure you may feel to do things you are not able to.
Take a look at your current “regime” of exercises and get a sense of how you feel about them. Are they chores you force yourself into? Do you grit your teeth through pain and resistance? Or is there a sense of playfulness, joy, and curiosity that naturally comes up as you practice them?
If your answer tends towards more challenge and forced effort, imagine some ways you might invite play and curiosity in, even if it means changing some details or removing some exercises altogether! Becoming your own advocate and friend in your exercises can help shift protective, defensive mechanisms that bring strain.
3. Approaching chronic pain beyond the purely mechanical:
The mechanical model frames chronic pain as a fault in our body system. Within the mechanical model, as long as certain structural aspects remain out of whack, we are doomed to feeling the same intense quality of pain. At Tend, we do not wholly subscribe to this perspective. Even where there is a mechanically irreversible issue, such as pinched nerves, we are able to shift the body’s relationship to that situation. When we view pain as a part of the body trying to get our attention by using a loud, insistent voice, we have the opportunity to engage in an inner dialogue and shift how that message is felt and responded to. In doing so, our body can interpret the same stimulus differently. Ultimately, we can change the way we relate to and experience pain and thereby greatly increase your quality of life.
Practice a shift of mindset from “I’m wounded and my pain is my enemy” into a conversation with the painful part of you. What is it trying to tell you? Can you negotiate a way for it to feel heard without “shouting” so loudly? It can help to envision you are talking to another person and write out the conversation, ie: “Thank you for drawing my attention to this! How can I help you feel less worried?” Over time, this can foster an internal trust and care that can shift the intensity and severity of symptoms.
4. Minimizing the way pain affects your relationship to the world around you:
Unfortunately not all pain can be magically removed. Rather than ignoring such experiences of pain, building and reinforcing skills to manage pain help soften its impact not only on your body and mind, but also on your relationship with yourself and with others. Healthy coping mechanisms can transform the effect of pain on your life and expand your capacity to connect.
Identify and write down 1-3 places in your life that your pain is having a persistent negative effect. Try not to rush to solve these, rather let yourself take time to be present with the feelings these challenges bring up. Notice and be present with any responses that arise in your body and mind. After some time, perhaps a greater sense of calm arises around these issues. When you’re ready, you can then begin to creatively envision changes that may support greater ease in how you approach these challenges. Too often and without conscious practice, we either push these issues aside or react from a place of panic and despair. It is amazing what we can do given the time to reach a calm attentive place!
“Do not resist the pain. Allow it to be there. Surrender to the grief, despair, fear, loneliness, or whatever form the suffering takes. Witness it without labeling it mentally. Embrace it. Then see how the miracle of surrender transmutes deep suffering into deep peace. This is your crucifixion. Let it become your resurrection and ascension.”—Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
At Tend, we understand that living with chronic pain is a process, you’ll have good and bad days. We help identify underlying patterns and design tailored exercises and solutions to meet your unique needs and goals. Part of our work together is to help build your resilience and resources, and help you feel success even in the “small” steps. Understanding the mechanisms and biology behind pain is important to how you can redefine your response to it. At Tend, it is part of our passion to help build this knowledge as well as engage your inner dialogue as a way to create change in your pain experience. We are committed to developing and implementing skills and tools that help shift your unique physical conditions and patterns.
Chronic pain is an issue that many of us suffer from and few people truly understand. Tired of having practitioners miss the reality of your experience or offer over simplistic solutions that don’t feel valuable? Our priority at Tend is to work with you within your current limitations and to help you discover how to live your best life.