How self-care can improve chronic pain conditions
August 3, 2020
As we are all living through an ongoing pandemic, it’s stressful. It’s hard for everyone, but when you also experience chronic pain, dealing with additional stress can be even more difficult. While there is no one answer to how to deal with it, we know that practicing self-care is always important.
But what exactly does that mean? Self-care means different things to different people, but a general definition is, “Any action to proactively take care of your health, physically or emotionally.” It means taking responsibility for your health and doing all you can to improve your well being.
Self-care & chronic pain
Self-care involves daily actions and choices. While some people only envision resting or relaxing, it’s about much more than that. It’s also about taking proactive approaches to sustain and maintain the best health you can possibly have while living with your condition. Practicing self-care can give you a sense of control and power over your circumstances. Even if there’s no cure for your condition, there is a lot you can do.
We can break self-care down into four overall areas of your life:
- Self-care related to your specific condition
- Everyday tasks
- Mental health
- Support system
Here is more information about each of these areas.
Self-care related to your condition
This area involves managing your symptoms and doing what you can to minimize them. Here are some ideas to help you do this:
- Monitor your symptoms
- Attend appointments with your doctor
- Take your prescribed medications
- Ask for medical help when you feel you need it
- Practice therapy methods at home
- Keep up with your pain journal
Daily tasks when you live with chronic pain can be difficult, but this part of self-care is about you maintaining a healthy routine. This may include things like brushing your teeth, showering, doing housework, eating healthy meals, walking to the mailbox, walking your dog, and doing other light activities. Another benefit of maintaining a daily routine is that it will help reduce stress since you won’t have to worry about getting these types of things done.
Managing the impact of your condition on your mental health
Living with a chronic condition often has an impact on mental health. This is totally normal. This area of self-care is about managing the effect your symptoms have on your mental health and trying to reduce any issues or problems as a result. This might include setting life goals without allowing your condition to limit you and setting aside time to do things that really nurture your happiness as well as help you shape your future. It may also be a good idea to see a psychologist about your condition.
Your support system
Who you have to support you has a big impact on how you can practice self-care and how motivated you may feel to do so. This may involve people in your support group, someone taking you to appointments, or a spouse who watches the kids while you go to a yoga class. Making and maintaining social connections is crucial for those living with chronic pain.
How to practice self-care
There is no one right way to practice self-care. You must work it around your own life, finding ways to implement self-care as much as you feel able. It’s a personal journey that you have to apply in context to the situation that you are in and the chronic condition that you have.
There are many self-care activities that we could list, but we will focus on a few of our most highly recommended ideas that our patients typically have success with.
- Define your priorities. Many people are hesitant to even do this, but if you know what your priorities are, it can guide your personal plan for self-care. Maybe eating well is more important to you than exercise, or vise versa. Maybe it’s simply getting out of the house every day.
- Eat a healthy diet. Priority or not, what you eat is important. Providing your body with the nutrients it needs will help it function better, especially when your body is also dealing with chronic pain. Many people have luck with an anti-inflammatory diet, but ask us for more specific guidance.
- Engage socially on a regular basis. A local support group, online support group, yoga class, or just getting together with a friend for coffee can help keep you connected.
- Exercise regularly. Living with chronic pain can make you feel like you should avoid exercise, but gentle exercise, such as swimming, yoga, and walking is extremely good for your body, mind, and mood.
- Rest without guilt. Maybe you need a nap every afternoon. That’s okay. Add it to your schedule if you can.
- Keep a good sleep routine. Chronic pain often goes hand in hand with sleeplessness. Do your best to maintain a good sleep routine with tips from this blog post.
- The little things count. Self-care doesn’t have to involve big acts or time-consuming events. Sit down and enjoy your cup of coffee in the morning. Watch your favorite show at night. Play a game with your kids. Read a book in a hammock. If it makes you feel better, physically, or mentally, it counts as self-care.
- Maintain good personal hygiene. Even if you don’t feel like it, a shower or simply brushing your teeth will probably make you feel better. Get dressed every day. Just taking care of these somewhat simple tasks may make you feel better.
Remember that self-care is a process of learning and adapting, changing goals along the way, and learning what helps you the most. Every item on this list may be important to you. Every item may sound doable to you. Or every item may not. Start with one of two options and see where you go from there. We feel confident that as you start to see improvement in various ways, you will want to do more.