Whilst coronavirus dominates the news, many people must continue to live with their existing conditions. Chronic pain is one of the largest health burdens affecting over 100 million Europeans and 100 million Americans. This massive problem persists and the people need on-going support and ways to improve their lives. With the additional worries, there is likely to be an impact. What can we do when dealing with chronic pain and coronavirus?
Pain is very much related to the state of the (whole) person within the context of their life. Pain is poorly related to the state of the the tissues — joints, discs, muscles etc. We have known this for many years, first articulated by the forefather of pain biology, Professor Pat Wall. His famous paper was published in 1979.
Knowing this helps people understand why their pain can worsen under times of stress and tiredness, despite not having ‘done something’. Emotional state and levels of energy are two important influences because pain is part of the way we protect ourselves. You can think of it as a need state, like hunger or thirst, motivating action so that we restore homeostasis (a kind of chemical balance) in our body allowing for optimum function.
In the light of this, it is important that we look after ourselves in the best way we that we can. The extra worry and anxiety caused by the impact of the coronavirus does have an effect upon the body. Chronic stress switches us into being more inflammatory, meaning more aches and pains and a host of other common problems.
The following suggestions will give you a simple guide to what you can do. This does not replace existing treatment or care, but rather may add something useful to make things easier.
1. Have a direction
Each day, you can choose what you are working towards using your practices and exercises. What is your picture of success? How do you want your life to be? We need a direction so that we can take steps towards something better. You may like to clarify this and then remind yourself each day, asking yourself: what can I do today that takes me in the direction?
A journal can be a good way to log this together with your daily achievements.
2. Make a plan
Having a daily and weekly plan helps you keep on track. There are many reasons why we steer off course, but having a direction and a plan that is written out makes it more likely you will be taking action(s) in line with your picture(s) of success. Take a few minutes each morning to do this, mapping out time to do important jobs, take rest breaks, periods of doing something that brings you joy and pleasure and exercises. You can also tick off what you have achieved.
3. Take breaks
We all need breaks through the day to re-energise. There are many ways to do this, and you probably have your existing practices. You might like to make a list of things that lift your energy?
What lifts my energy?
Popular example include breathing, moving, fresh air, a shower, connecting with someone, watching something funny, music and visualisation. The key is to be consistent through the day so that you are actively managing your energy.
4. Projects with purpose
We all have purpose(s). The busyness or stress of life can cause us to disconnect from our purpose. Reconnecting is important by choosing to pursue our purpose each day.
What personal project can I begin?
When we fill our time with meaningful activities, we shift into good and great (biological) states. These are figured into our daily plan, and if lengthy, punctuated by breaks.
5. Motion is lotion
There is little we can achieve without movement. We need our bodies to move. This is at the heart of wellness. The world becomes increasingly ‘dangerous’ when we have limited movement. There is an increase in the perception of threat, pushing us into a protect state, which pain is part of amongst a range of other features. These include different thinking, emotional states, and perceptions of the world.
To move we need to feel safe. You may need to work with a clinician or therapist to help you really understand your pain as a first step. When you really understand pain, you begin to know that you are safe to move, and gradually build up your ability and confidence.
Little and often is a good start. Having repeated good experiences of movement creates evidence for us that we can move and that it can get better.
There are many practices, exercises and strategies that we can use to improve our lives. Those mentioned are a selection of common tools, and perhaps you will find them useful at this time.
More to come.