If you live with chronic pain, adopting stress-relief strategies such as regular exercise, meditation or guided relaxation can help limit how much stress affects your pain perception, providing a reminder that some aspects of pain are under your control. It matters little which stress-reduction activity you choose: Find something that engages and motivates you, reminding you that there’s a life outside of pain.
If a hectic healthcare schedule is increasing your stress level, create a file for medical appointment reminders, bills, insurance paperwork and medication lists that you can easily grab before each appointment. Ask a friend, partner or family member to join you if necessary, and consider an online calendar with automatic reminders that will prompt you when there’s a medical visit coming up.
Pain doesn’t need to be chronic for stress-reduction tools to work, either. Even the occasional headache or migraine can be prevented with these strategies. In addition, keeping stress reduction on your radar can help you ward off infections, acute pain and other stress-influenced illnesses.
How to Keep Pain from Adding to Stress
Mindfulness, whether you adopt it casually or spiritually, can be powerful, too. Today, mindfulness-based stress reduction has become so common that it has an easily recognized acronym (MBSR), and a 2009 study showed that quality of life for chronic pain patients increased after taking an MBSR course
Unlike medications or other therapies, MBSR doesn’t seek to resolve or mask pain. Rather, this complementary therapy teaches people with pain to stay in the moment in a non-judgmental way, and has many of the same benefits as meditation. In practice, this means observing your thoughts and letting them pass, rather than labeling them “good” and “bad” or dwelling on stressful, pain-related, or negative thoughts any longer than necessary.
Staying in the moment, though it can be difficult, helps the body avoid becoming exhausted by stress by limiting what you deal with to what is occurring in the present.
Whether your pain is the occasional twinge or a well-documented condition, the anxiety of pain is universal: What does it mean? Why is it happening? When will it stop? The good news is that whether or not these questions can be answered, there are ways to regain control over pain and stress, breaking this damaging cycle.
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Mary C. Davis and Alex J. Zautra. "Chronic Pain, Stress, and the Dynamics of Affective Differentiation." Journal of Personality. 2004 December; 72(6) 1133-1159.
Steven Rosenzweig, Jeffrey M. Greeson, Diane K. Reibel, Joshua S. Green, Samar A. Jasser, Denise Beasley. "Mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic pain conditions." Journal of Psychosomatic Research. (2010) 29-36.
Harvard Health Publications, "The Gut-Brain Connection," www.health.harvard.edu, accessed on May 22, 2013.
OHSU Brain Institute, "Pain Management," www.ohsu.edu, accessed on May 22, 2013.
University of Maryland Medical Center, "Stress—Complications," www.umm.edu, accessed on May 22, 2013.
The Stress-Pain Connection
How Relieving Stress Can Relieve Pain, Too
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