There are a plethora of reasons why you might be experiencing chronic pain. It may be a situation that will resolve in time, like a broken bone or healing and injury, or you may have a long lasting condition to deal with. Either way, here are some strategies for natural ways to deal with chronic pain.
1. Practice meditation and deep breathing
Mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and meditation help your body relax, which can ease pain. As your muscles relax, you’ll feel tension release and pain will decrease.
Although there are many ways to meditate, the most effective thing in this case is to be repetitive and to stick with it over time. It can be helpful for beginners to start by focusing on the breath, quieting thoughts, and repeating a word or phrase as you get the body to relax. Taking a class is recommended to help you get started.
Deep breathing is also a relaxation technique. A major benefit here is that it can be done anywhere at any time. Simply find a quiet location, a comfortable body position, and block out distracting thoughts. Then, you can visualize a spot just below your navel and breathe into that spot, filling your low belly with air. Feel the air filling your abdomen and then slowly release it like a deflating balloon.
2. Reduce stress as much as possible
When you’re in a negative feeling state (depression, anxiety, stress, or anger) it can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. Learning to take control of stress is one way to effectively manage chronic pain.
Reducing stress is often easier said than done. One way to go about this is to focus on calming the nervous system. Listening to soothing, calming music can help your body and mind calm down and lift your mood, which in turn makes pain more tolerable. Another option is mental imagery relaxation (also called guided imagery) which offers a mental escape that can help you feel peaceful. With this guided practice you create calming, peaceful images in your mind. Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that promotes relaxation which can be helpful for releasing tension and easing pain, regardless of its location.
3. Release natural endorphins with exercise
These natural pain-relieving hormones are brain chemicals that help improve your mood while also blocking pain signals. Exercise also strengthens muscles, helping to prevent re-injury and the possibility of further pain. Moving your body regularly will also keep your weight down, which is beneficial, especially if you tend to be more sedentary due to chronic pain. If you can, get to a group movement class where you can exercise with other people – the community environment will lift your spirits.
Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that is right for your body. With certain conditions, like diabetic neuropathy, you’ll need to be careful about the types of activities you choose. Your doctor can advise on the best activities for you.
4. Improve your sleep hygiene
Pain can make sleep difficult. Which is why it’s even more important to stay on top of your sleep hygiene. Set a regular bedtime and wake time and try to stick to a schedule that allows you 7-9 hours of rest. Avoid alcohol before bed, which can make sleep problems worse. In general, reducing your alcohol consumption will go a long way for your rest, muscle recovery and improving your overall quality of life.
5. Track your symptoms
Keeping a log or journal of your daily “pain score” will help you track your pain. This makes it easier to communicate your symptoms to your doctor without the strain of having to remember or describe your past symptoms.
To get started, write down your pain level on the 1 to 10 pain scale at the end of each day. Also, note what activities you did that day. Bring this logbook to every doctor at each visit to give your doctor a good understanding of how you’re living with chronic pain and your physical functioning level.
6. Eat well to decrease inflammation
Eating well becomes even more important when you’re dealing with chronic pain because inflammation from your diet can trigger your symptoms. Choose whole foods – like fruits and vegetables – and avoid packaged and processed foods as much as possible. Lowering your intake of inflammatory foods like grain flours, sugar, fried foods and dairy will support your body in staying pain-free as often as possible. It may be helpful to track your food intake for a few weeks and cross-reference that with your pain log to see if there’s a correlation between your diet and your symptoms.
7. Find and focus on joy instead of pain
By now you’re likely aware that when you focus on pain, it makes it worse rather than better. To keep yourself occupied in a healthy way, find something you like doing. When you get into an activity you enjoy, it will keep you busy and thinking about things besides your pain. You might not be able to avoid pain entirely, but you can take control of your life and focus on things that bring you joy in the moment.