How to Rise Out of Feelings of Hopelessness

Jennifer Essary
Written by
Jennifer Essary Primal Health Coach

In my previous article, I discussed how chronic pain and depression are linked. Chronic pain can cause depression and depression can actually cause chronic pain. When you’re dealing with chronic pain it’s easy to feel there is no hope. The good news is that you can rise out of feelings of hopelessness due to chronic pain. It may sound too good to be true when general daily tasks feel like a struggle. You’re probably wondering how you’re going to make a significant change when the thought of adding another thing to your to-do list feels impossible.

Finding Hope With Chronic Pain

There’s this expectation we place on ourselves to make an instant change overnight. Whether it’s weight loss, new year’s resolutions, or any lifestyle change it’s overwhelming to expect a 180 degree turn from ourselves. In fact, when most people put pressure on themselves to change overnight many of them give up on their goal. Rather than implement a complete lifestyle overhaul overnight, focus on the simple tasks.

If you’ve been living with chronic pain and depression there are likely some things you can distinguish between the days you feel good and the days you feel bad. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your mood and pain aren’t as noticeable after a good night’s sleep. You may have made a connection between sweet treats, joint pain, and depression. [1] [2] Think about your good days versus your bad days and what makes all the difference for you.

Make a list of the things that help you and a list of the things that seem to make things worse. Whether you choose 1 thing from each list to focus on, or 1 thing from one list it’s a start in a better direction. Focusing on one small thing is easier to manage than trying to accomplish the whole list all at once. When the task list is small it can reduce overwhelm and it can give you confidence knowing that you are capable of making changes. Chronic pain can feel like there is no hope or a path forward but when you begin making small changes that are easy, your hope begins to return.

Using Mindfulness To Relieve Chronic Pain

Awareness and self-compassion will help you on your journey to relieve chronic pain. As you begin making lifestyle changes there are days where you will likely feel as if you could have done better. It’s normal, you’re human. No one makes lifestyle changes perfectly. What separates those who succeed from those who give up is their mindset. You simply have to extend yourself some grace and aim for a better day tomorrow. Improving your health is a marathon, not a sprint. The trick is to not beat yourself up if the day didn’t go perfectly.

If you find your mind wandering to a negative place take a moment to pause. Take a few deep breaths and imagine releasing the tension you’re holding as you exhale. Look around your environment and pick one or more things you are grateful for. It could be a photo of a loved one, a warm sweater, a cup of coffee, or the sunlight through the trees.

Neuroplasticity shows us that our thoughts shape the wiring of our brain. Every time you interrupt a thought you don’t want to have with positive thoughts the brain begins to break those negative connections. Nerve signals can be compared to water flowing down a hill. When water flows down a hill it takes the path of least resistance. Over time, through erosion, that path becomes the default route the water will take in the future. Thankfully you have more control than the soil on the hill. It’s called mindfulness.

Practicing daily mindfulness can be helpful for people living with chronic pain. Negative or worrisome thoughts about pain affects your mood and in turn, increases pain, and can even lead to depression. Mindfulness meditation for chronic pain can create more awareness of the sensation of pain itself, control the way we process the sensation, and shift our negative emotions we project onto pain. When we become more aware of what we are experiencing, the overall perception of pain is reduced.

The benefits of mindfulness for chronic pain include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Increased relaxation and calmness
  • Increased sense of acceptance for the present
  • Decreased repetitive thinking, rumination, and reactivity
  • Decreased pain intensity
  • Decreased anxiety and depression
  • Enhanced self-compassion

Focus On The Positives

Make a list of the things you’re good at. Take a mindful moment every morning to plan how you will implement these things in your day. If it helps, write them out visually on a whiteboard or in your daily calendar. Put this list somewhere visible so that you see it every day. Posting it on your bathroom mirror so that you can look at it while you brush your teeth is one of the tricks many successful entrepreneurs use to achieve their goals.

At the end of the day, without judgment, reflect on all of the things you were able to accomplish that day. Did you eat more vegetables today than you did yesterday? Were you able to take the dog for a walk? Did you finish a big work project or tackle a home organization project? Learn to celebrate what you can do. Not only does this work to shift your thinking, thereby reducing chronic pain, but general daily movement also helps chronic pain. [3]

Recognize that feelings are not facts and they can change quickly. Sometimes it helps to get clear on what you are feeling. Often people feel a low mood but they don’t take time to reflect on whether it’s grief, fear, anxiety, sadness, distrust, bitterness, helplessness, anger, or frustration. When you get clear on what you are feeling it helps you figure out possible remedies. Think about the things that make you less fearful, what aspect of life do you distrust, and what are you angry about? Knowing what has you feeling down can help you find solutions to feeling better. 

Build A Network Of Allies

Isolation can make things feel more overwhelming than necessary. Think about the people in your life who will positively support you on your journey. It could be friends or family members. Also, be mindful that friends and family could hinder your success. I know it sounds crazy but I see this a lot in my coaching. For some reason, the people closest to you who see you trying to improve might try to hold you back. Your willingness to make changes reminds them of what they’re not doing. If someone close to you says hurtful things while you’re trying to improve your health don’t take it personally, it’s not about you. In those situations, you may find that you’re better suited to working with a therapist.

Building your network of support look for people who will uplift you when you are down or struggling. Think of who would lend an ear when you need one. To safeguard the relationship ask this person for permission first. Are they willing to play this role? Set up some boundaries such as how often you’ll talk and the length of those conversations. If you feel up to it, extend them the same courtesy.

Most people, especially during quarantine, simply need someone to listen and connect with. You could also make it an online social event where everyone brings tea and/or discusses a favorite book or movie. As quarantine restrictions are relaxed consider a picnic in the park, an afternoon of fishing, or an easy walk through nature. 

Finding Hope With Chronic Pain

It’s unfortunate that many areas of modern medicine give people with chronic pain no hope of a better future. Patients rotate through doctors, specialists, and prescriptions, but they’re typically don’t see the results they’re looking for. The good news is there are countless lifestyle, dietary, and mindful interventions you can pursue to improve your chronic joint pain. No matter how many years you’ve suffered you can begin making small changes today. Progress is made one day at a time. The human body is naturally wired to repair itself, you simply have to provide the environment.

Jennifer Essary
Written by
Jennifer Essary Primal Health Coach

After learning to manage her joint pain through diet and lifestyle Jennifer became a Primal Health Coach in 2016. She holds a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Cincinnati. Jennifer is a medical massage therapist licensed by The Ohio State Medical Board who specializes in myoskeletal alignment. In her spare time she’s a homeschool mom who’s working towards her black belt in Taekwondo. She’s a bowhunter, skier, a self proclaimed chef, and you’ll find her watching Christmas movies all year long. You can learn more about her story here at jennifermichelle.co.

This article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.

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