When Chronic Pain Becomes Too Much

Jennifer Essary
Written by
Jennifer Essary Primal Health Coach

If you’ve reached a point where chronic pain and depression are overwhelming, it’s not your fault. It turns out that chronic pain and depression share the same nerve pathways in the brain. When you have one you’re more likely to develop the other. Chronic pain is exhausting. It limits what you can do in your daily life, it affects your sleep, and with time it simply wears you down. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel depressed by chronic pain. Then the reverse is also true. Depression magnifies the pain and a depressed person is at higher risk for developing chronic pain. Not only does your chronic pain make you feel depressed, but your depression could also be making your chronic pain worse. For these reasons you have to address both, the pain and the depression, to see an improvement in both.

Lifestyle Changes To Help Chronic Pain

When it comes to managing your pain it helps to focus on the things that you can do. Make a list of the things you already know that make your pain worse. You don’t have to tackle them all at once unless you want to. Choose one thing from the list that you will change daily. When you get good at sticking to that change choose another issue from the list.

If you’re not sure where to begin consider what a typical day looks like. What kind of shoes do you wear? Do they make your pain better or worse. If you work during the day consider the position(s) your body is in during the day. Look for repetitive movements and instances where things are misaligned. Working at a computer you want your screen eye level, shoulders relaxed, feet on the floor, and elbows bent at 90 degrees. Many offices now have an ergonomics specialist to help you set up your workstation. Conversely, if you find yourself sitting in the same position most of the day that can also make the pain worse.

While it hasn’t become mainstream many people are finding relief from chronic pain by changing their diet. All dietary approaches agree that we should stay away from processed food and fast food. Work on incorporating more whole foods into your diet, i.e. foods without ingredient lists. Try to eat a rainbow of vegetables during the week. Add healthy fats, quality protein, and nourishing foods like bone broth.

How To Improve Your Sleep

When chronic pain becomes too much one of the easiest, and hopefully most pleasurable changes you can make is improving your quality of sleep. While chronic pain can make sleep difficult there are some tricks to help you sleep better. One of the easiest changes is blocking the blue light from screens. There are free apps you can download like F.lux and Twilight to shade your screens according to your location and the sun in the sky. Blue blocker glasses are another option to block out blue light. Why does blue light matter? When you look at your screens the body perceives the blue light just as if you were out in the sun. Sunlight tells the body to wake up by releasing cortisol. At night when you’re trying to sleep but you keep looking at your phone you’re sending a mixed signal to the brain. On one hand, you want to sleep and on the other, the blue light is keeping you awake.

As you fall asleep at night your body naturally cools down. You can intensify this effect by having a hot shower or bath just before you climb into bed. Crawling into bed your body will begin to cool down helping you fall asleep. If you’re not sensitive to lavender essential oil rub a few drops between the palms of your hands. Wipe your hands across your pillowcase, the top of your blankets, and maybe across your nightshirt to help you sleep.

Sleeping positions can determine whether you wake up with pain during the night. The best position for you depends on where you have chronic pain. Side sleepers may find relief by putting a pillow between their knees or sleeping with a body pillow that they can put their arm and leg over. If you sleep on your back consider putting a pillow under your knees to relieve pressure from your back and knees. You might also want to determine if your current mattress and pillows are working as well as they could.

Managing Chronic Pain With Stress Reduction

Stress reduction can provide great relief when chronic pain becomes too much. As I mentioned earlier depression drives chronic pain so reducing stress can support a better mood and pain relief. Consider the elements of your day that bring you stress and the moments that bring you joy. Find ways to incorporate more of those joyful moments into your day.

Some simple mood boosters:

  • Play your favorite music
  • Spend time in nature
  • Go for a walk
  • Call a good friend
  • Create art or music

Meditation and prayer have also been shown to reduce stress and chronic pain symptoms. It doesn’t matter if you simply focus on your breath or if you connect with a higher universal being. Quieting and relaxing the mind for a period of time is the important aspect to focus on.

A systematic search of four databases identified 534 citations; 13 Randomised controlled trials satisfied the inclusion criteria. Mindfulness meditation significantly reduced depression. For affective pain, sensory pain, and anxiety there was a trend towards benefit with intervention. Quality of life items on mental health, physical health, and overall score improved with mindfulness meditation. [1]

Physical Activity When You Have Chronic Pain

When it’s performed correctly physical activity can reduce chronic pain. That is, always approach new activities slowly and proceed at your own pace. The purpose of exercise is to maintain our joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. People with more muscle mass live longer. [2] Movement helps the body’s circulation. Joint movements help drain the lymph nodes and allow the body to remove metabolic wastes from joints and tissues. When these metabolic wastes are removed it allows fresh nutrients and blood cells to refresh the cells of the body. This is one of the reasons why quality food can have such a huge impact. Every cellular process relies on nutrition and if you’re not getting it, you’re not giving your tissues enough resources to repair themselves. 

Water exercises are great if you have joint pain because they reduce impact. Consider a restorative yoga class for gentle movements. Activities like walking or a leisurely bike ride can get the body moving in a low-impact way. Whatever activity you choose start slowly and listen to your body along the way. If you’re not feeling up to exercise opt for a less intense movement activity. Simple daily movements around your home are better than doing nothing at all. Your body’s default programming is self-repair. The stressful aspect of exercise is what signals the body to rebuild itself stronger. You can’t force the process, you simply have to give your body the space to heal.

If you need help on your healing journey consider our Relief Toolkit and the resources provided in the accompanying app.

  • 12-week mindfulness for pain management course
  • Specialty lessons on managing pain holistically (nutrition, movement, etc)
  • On-demand meditations
  • Quick relief exercises for flare ups
  • Goal setting and tracking to view your progress

Begin your journey today!

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28961631/

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24561114/

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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