5 Easy Chronic Pain Self-Management Skills

Today I want to take a slice of Pete Moore’s Pain Toolkit and share it with you. Who is Pete Moore? He’s a chronic pain warrior who came up with this incredible Pain Toolkit to help others struggling with chronic pain. Here’s the website: https://www.paintoolkit.org/ . The truth is, we can learn to self-manage our chronic pain. Like Pete, I have also learned to do so to a point where, yes I have pain, but no it does not affect my day-to-day life (that’s not to say I don’t have bad days, heck I had bad pain the other night and had difficulty sleeping). One thing we want to do when we have chronic pain is cultivate resilience. Now, I’ve written about resilience before in the past, so I’m not going to go into detail here. For those who aren’t familiar with what resilience entails, here are a few things: optimism, self-belief, willingness, self-control, being able to adapt, psychological flexibility, problem-solving, emotional awareness, social support, and humour, to name a few. So, here are 5 ways we can learn to do this.

Doing these things helps me manage my chronic pain.
  1. Goal Setting and Action Planning I often set goals for myself, even on days that I’m not feeling great. In our third atmospheric river (basically several days of torrential downpour) since November in BC, Canada, I’m again feeling it in my body. But I know my body also needs to move. So I set a goal for how far I will walk in the rain (which is less than my goal would normally be but appropriate for the weather, my body at this moment, etc.). So, set your goals, and prepare for barriers to them. Here’s a podcast episode I recently did on that.
  2. Engaging in Activities of Daily Living – Getting out of bed, having a shower, eating breakfast, etc. All the regular stuff we do in our lives. It can be really hard to want to do them when you have an illness or pain, but doing them can also improve our overall well-being. Check out this episode of the podcast for more.
  3. Problem Solving – Problem solving can include a lot of different things. Pacing is important and I’ve done a post on that (December 1), prioritizing and planning your days, and really importantly, having a setback plan. What are you going to do when things don’t go the way you planned (in your goal setting and action planning stage). When I was recovering from hip surgery last year, I had to problem solve how to do all of my daily activities because I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot (for 6 weeks!) and I live alone. I still had to figure out how to cook, shower, dress, and even get to some appointments.
  4. Be Active – this will mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but it really means to move your body. It could be walking, exercise/going to the gym, stretching, yoga. Exercise itself is an evidence-based treatment for chronic pain (here’s the podcast episode). It can be light movement, as long as it’s movement. I can’t go a day without moving my body. Even when I notice I’m having the thought that I don’t want to move or I’m in too much pain, I inevitably actually feel better if I go for a walk or do some restorative yoga.
  5. Be patient with yourself – offer yourself some compassion. Change is slow. Like it’s an average of 10 weeks for someone to start noticing differences (in their minds or bodies) when they start to make any changes. If you find you’re having difficulty being patient with yourself, try this mindfulness exercise. I’m definitely guilty of wanting change to occur quickly for myself. But interestingly, when I offer myself patience and compassion instead of criticism, change seems to actually occur more quickly than when I’m only hard on myself.
Remember, change is slow.

I hope this helps you with some pain management. I know it’s things that have helped me and many others. So, just keep making the most of it!

Patience

Have you heard the phrase: “Good things come to those who wait.”? It seems silly but it can also be true. Granted, when it comes to chronic illness, the concept of patience can be applied to a variety of things. Patience with ourselves, patience with our symptoms, patience with the healthcare system (like getting an accurate diagnosis or scheduling surgery), patience with our loved ones. And it’s true, that good things don’t always happen. It’s an optimistic, slightly silly concept. In reality, we usually have to do things to make those “things” happen. If we don’t call and bug the doctor’s office for appointments; if we don’t try to do what we can when we can (or in reverse, allow ourselves to rest when we need to); if we don’t try to be proactive and find ways to help our symptoms (holistic/alternative medicine, Western medicine etc.) then good things will never happen. However, the “good things” may only happen after a given period of time even when we are proactive, hence, “good things come to those who wait.”

Photo taken outside of Vernon, BC.

Growing up, I took martial arts. I am going to right now recommend that if you have children and the means to put them into martial arts – do it! It’s not about fighting or even just self-defence (which is a good reason for sure), it’s about the ability to learn patience. When I was 10 through 13, my brother and I took Shotokan (non-contact) Karate (okay, contact kind of happens by accident sometimes when you get to the higher belts). Every class begins and ends with meditation, but where you really learn to be patient is during testing. You must be present at the beginning of the day and watch all the people with belts below yours test before you can leave. Easy when you’re a white or yellow or even orange belt, but when you’re a kid and a green, purple, brown or black belt, that process of sitting, watching quietly, for hours can be testing. But it creates great patience.

My highest rank in karate.

Patience came up for me because as you may know from previous posts, the original practicum opportunity I secured was revoked (mistake by the site) and I had to apply to a new place, and get an extension from school. I secured a new placement, wrote my 34 page application package for the university, then waited nearly a month for an approval (it did get approved!). That left me with like a week and a half to plan and execute a cross-country move. I’ll admit it was hard to stay patient during that month, but, my practice with patience from childhood and with experiences with health made it slightly easier (now I’m just trying not to be too overwhelmed with the move!). The point is, I was patient, and good things happened.

Yay! Approval!

I’m all about keeping a healthy mix of optimism and realism (I always have a backup plan or two) because things don’t always work out the way we want them to (ahem, 2020). Patience can be helpful, and utilizing meditation and mindfulness practices is another way to develop patience if you are struggling. I hope everyone has a good week, and keep on making the most of it!

No one is more patient than a sloth!
(photo taken at an Animal Rescue Centre in Costa Rica)