5 Tips for Coping with Pain Setbacks in Healthy Ways

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

April 24th, 2010 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

Pain setbacks are challenging to deal with, on many levels. For starters, there’s the physical pain and exacerbated disability that in and of themselves are rough. They affect our ability to get around, to interact with people, to enjoy simple activities, and to take care of ourselves in basic ways.

Then there’s the anxiety that comes with not knowing how long the latest setback will last, what additional complications it will create in our bodies, and how it will affect our ability to work and therefore survive. There is also the frustration we feel about having to hoist ourselves back up off the proverbial floor, when we just got ourselves standing again, following that last damn setback.

Add to this reality the exacerbating alienation of pain setbacks – ie, yet again, we’re stuck in bed or at home, unable to get out in the world and meet new people, once more foiled in our efforts to exit our state of isolation — and setbacks can leave us feeling quite depressed about our overall lives, in turn leading us to spiral downward into a pit of despair.

But as people with chronic pain, not to mention the hypersensitivity accompanying that pain, we very well may need to accept setbacks as a normal part of the cycle of our lives. Accepting this reality, instead of railing against it, can be the first step to managing setbacks in healthy ways. Here are some additional steps that I find useful:

1.   Call a loved one. Share the experience and frustration.
Some people need direct guidance on how to respond to what we’re going through. So it might be helpful for us to explicitly state what we need. In my case, it’s usually a loving ear on the other side, listening without judgment; someone genuinely caring, clucking in empathy at the appropriate intervals; a person expressing unconditional love for me; a cheerleader stating faith in my ability to transcend the latest ordeal.

 2.   Exorcise the negative feelings, through creative expression.

For me, blogging is a way not only to get out my feelings, but also to connect with others going through the same thing — thus reminding me that I’m not alone. Doing something positive with the negative experience also makes me feel powerful, at a time that I otherwise may feel out of control in my life. Whether your personal mode of self-expression is music, art, writing, or acting, do what you can to release the setback into the universe and create something beautiful from it.

Of course, our setback may itself limit our ability to self-express through our usual mediums, so we may need to get creative in adapting our typical mode to our current circumstance. Approach that creative process in and of itself with an attitude of creativity, joy, and self-expression.

3.   Lay low and rest as much as possible.

There’s no way around it: When our bodies get injured, we have to retreat and lick our wounds. The more we put off the process, the longer it will take for us to heal, and the more chance our healing will be compromised. So wherever possible, cancel meetings, decline invitations, and crawl into bed with that post-apocalyptic-size ice pack and/or heating pad.

4.   Pull out all the tools from your chronic pain toolbox.

I dislike taking supplements and vitamins multiple times a day, every day. So when I’m in cruise mode and staying out of pain through dance alone, I avoid them. But when my pain levels get jacked up, I pull them out again, knowing they help take the edge off and get my pain levels under control. I also make a point of dancing, however gently, taking hot baths or showers, using anti-inflammatory ointments, giving myself and receiving from others energy healing sessions, and (wherever possible, through payment or barter) getting bodywork from practitioners I trust. 

Be sure to keep a list of the tools in your chronic pain toolbox. I know that when my pain levels get jacked up, I have a tendency to forget everything but the pain; so I need an easily-accessible reminder. Keeping the list on the refrigerator, I have found, is not a bad idea!

5.   Approach the setback as a mini-vacation or catch-up period.

True, I’d rather be windsurfing in Hawaii. But if I am going to do this setback thing, I might as well do it in style. Approaching my setback as a mini-vacation changes the vibe from “I’m stuck in bed” to “I get to luxuriate in bed.” Wherever possible (pain in the head region may make this tough), watch movies, read books, talk on the phone, surf the internet, or relax to music while resting in bed.

Another possibility is approaching the setback as an opportunity to get organized in some low-key ways – taking on those tasks that are perpetually at the bottom of the to-do list. A setback can be an ideal time to go through the closet and organize or purge items, to organize files on our computer, or to look through our wardrobe and put together some new outfits.

The bottom line is that as much as we click our heels together and recite, “There’s no place like home,” we may not be able to power our way out of a setback. By surrendering to the reality of that setback, however, and by approaching it with positivity and creativity, we just might be able to sail through it.

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