Emotional Wellness-®, Fox Valley Institute’s newsletter, is published six times per year and addresses topics important to your overall well being.
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Managing Chronic Pain
Pain can be seen as the Body’s Messenger Telling Us That Things are Not Right – and Let’s See How to Make Them Better.
Estimates based on research indicate that from ten to thirty percent of the American population suffers from chronic or recurrent physical pain. Pain sufferers often feel that their doctors are not able to give them the treatment they need to alleviate their pain. They may have been told that it is all in their head, and they feel very alone when nobody can seem to give them support for being in pain. They feel helpless, anxiety-ridden, depressed, angry, frustrated, and out of control. They often turn to prescription pain medication, drugs or alcohol for relief – only to find that these quick fixes can cause more complications and devastation in their lives than the original pain.
Pain is actually essential to our survival. Acute pain is temporary and it can be severe. It tells us that injury has occurred and that we must take action to protect ourselves from further injury and seek comfort so the body can heal. If these actions occur, healing usually takes place. However, sometimes people do not recover and the pain continues. Chronic pain is that which lasts longer than three months, is often ill-defined regarding its cause, and has a heavy impact on all aspects of a person’s life.
Although the cause of chronic pain is usually difficult to pinpoint, most pain experts believe that it is caused by damaged and inflamed nerves, muscles and blood vessels – and it is very real. The body becomes locked into a vicious cycle. You naturally limit movement in the painful area, and this causes you to lose strength and flexibility. If you try to ignore the pain and increase your activity, the pain becomes so severe that you again become inactive. Sometimes you unconsciously guard against the pain and this leads to muscle tension and spasms. Your body becomes weak and deconditioned, and you begin to feel frustrated, angry, and depressed. Your friends and family do not understand the pain and may underestimate its impact on your life. This leads to more anger and depression. Sometimes, though, they may overindulge you, and this can make you feel more dependent and out of control of your own life. These negative emotions can actually perpetuate pain. The more negativity we feel, the greater our pain – and the greater our pain, the more negative emotions we experience.
This negative spiral, though, can be broken. We are sometimes told that we will just have to live with our pain after all else has failed, but we are far from doomed at this point. The realization that nothing else medically can be done can actually force us to examine the way we have lived and what brought us to the point where pain can play such a dominant role in our lives. In fact, this may just be the thing that it takes to turn one’s life around in a very positive and meaningful way.
With good therapeutic support and a commitment to do some hard work on important life issues, chronic pain can be managed very effectively. For some people, mind/body strategies have been shown to eliminate pain altogether, even when all else has failed. People who have been through therapy which addresses pain report significantly reduced pain severity, lessened depression and anxiety, and decreased feelings of losing control. They report reductions in the degree to which pain interferes with their daily activities. Even if the pain continues, the sufferer can experience less distress and emotional suffering – and can become an active participant in life again.
There are several good physical treatments that can alleviate pain. Some forms of acute pain respond well to painkilling medications ranging from mild analgesics to strong opium-based drugs for the most severe cases. Some chronic pain responds well to anti-inflammatory medications or antidepressants, although narcotic drugs are seldom effective for chronic pain (they may work for short-term acute pain) since narcotics tend to require ever increasing doses and they become less effective over time – not to mention their effect on our sleep, our mood, and our ability to think and perform clearly. Sometimes electrical stimulation methods provide some relief, as well as local anesthetics, surgical procedures, ice, heat, and massage. If these medical interventions fail, however, it may be time to take a hard look into some psychotherapeutic techniques that focus on the way we handle our emotions and our general way of living.
Our lives tend to be taken over by chronic pain. Our jobs, friends, and enjoyable activities all become secondary to this force that has taken over our lives. We put our lives on hold while we wait for someone – a physician, a drug, an insurance company, a friend – to come to our rescue. What we forget is that ultimately we need to be in charge of our own lives.
We need to regain our sense of independence. “Is the pain in control or am I in control of the pain?” We need to shift to taking control of the pain. This may take some exploration in therapy of how we see ourselves and how we can allow ourselves to fall into the role of being the victim. It helps to embrace our pain, to acknowledge that it is a part of our life and that it is there to serve a purpose. The pain is not the enemy that must be fought off – and as long as we hold on to this thought, it becomes very difficult to take control of the pain. It is only when we embrace the pain and take ownership of it that we can truly begin to know how the pain fits into the whole of our life experiences. We can then hear the messages that the pain is trying to send us. We can be both in control of the pain and in control of our own lives.
List of Newsletters
- January/February 2014 – Problematic Personalities
- March/April 2014 – The Committed Relationship
- May/June 2014 – Eating Disorders
- July/August 2014 – The Influence of Birth Order
- September/October – No Secrets – Telling the Truth in Our Relationships
- November/December 2014 – Resisting Violence in Children
- November/December 2011 – Freedom From Emotional Abuse
- September/October 2011 – Creating A Strong Supportive Family
- July/August 2011 – Arguing Constructively – and Not So Constructively
- May/June 2011 – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- March/April 2011 – Social Anxiety – Overcoming Shyness
- January/February 2011 – Loss Can Bring Gain
- November/December 2009 – Relationship Conflicts
- September/October 2009 – Rumination
- July/August 2009 – The Altruism Option
- May/June 2009 – Relationship Addiction
- March/April 2009 – Understanding Anxiety
- January/February 2009 – Loneliness
- November/December 2008 – Understanding Anger
- September/October 2008 – Depression in Men
- July/August 2008 – Self-Reflection and the Inward Looking Person
- May/June 2008 – Staying Together – How to Build a Healthy Committed Relationship
- March/April 2008 – Surviving the Life Crisis
- January/February 2008 – Emotional Manipulation
- November/December 2007 – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- September/October 2007 – Weight Management and Your Emotions
- July/August 2007 – Making Life Changes
- May/June 2007 – Friendship and Social Support
- March/April 2007 – Cognitive Distortions
- January/February 2007 – Control Issues
- November/December 2006 – The Crisis of Infidelity
- September/October 2006 – Procrastination
- July/August 2006 – The Lasting Relationship
- May/June 2006 – Sleep & The Sleep Disorders
- March/April 2006 – Body Image
- January/February 2006 – Pets and Emotional Wellness
- November/December 2005 – Birth Order
- September/October 2005 – Breaking Up
- July/August 2005 – Effective Listening
- May/June 2005 – The Intimate Relationship
- March/April 2005 – Enhancing Your Self-Esteem
- January/February 2005 – Negotiating Life Transitions
- November/December 2004 – Authentic Happiness
- September/October 2004 – Emotional Unavailability
- July/August 2004 – Punctuality – Getting there On Time
- May/June 2004 – Attention Deficits – Living with ADD and ADHD
- March/April 2004 – Manipulation in Relationships
- February 2004 – Stress and Anxiety Disorders
- January 2004 – Looking for Love in all the Right Places
- November/December 2003 – Understanding the Personality Disorders
- September/October 2003 – Truth and Honesty in Our Relationships
- July/August 2003 – Assert Yourself
- May/June 2003 – Resilience – The Ability to Bounce Back
- March/April 2003 – Living With Chronic Illness
- January/February 2003 – It Takes Two – A Way to Understand Relationship Conflicts
- November/December 2002 – Grieving – Our Heartfelt Response to a Major Loss
- September/October 2002 – Overcoming Shyness and Social Anxiety
- July/August 2002 – Adult Children of Substance Abusers
- May/June 2002 – Enhancing Your Emotionally Committed Relationship