As someone who has struggled with the gamut of pain: acute, chronic, emotional, spiritual, I have spent a great deal of time exploring this concept with the ever-optimistic hope that there is that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
As a physician, I know that we have many tools at the ready to help with a large percentage of pain cases. But I also know that these are fallible and nearly always carry some degree of risk. I also know that success of any medical treatment within the realm of pain is highly variable. There is a lot of frustration on both sides: that of the patient and also that of the treating professional.
Hopeless situation? Helpless and powerless in the face of pain?
I can't accept that.
While the tools of medicine are available and (hopefully) helpful, the answers do not wholly reside there.
I believe that there is much each of us can do, on our own, with little to no assistance from the medical establishment, in easing much of the pain we encounter in our everyday lives.
Disclaimer: severe, chronic and/or disabling pain should always prompt a visit to a healthcare professional for evaluation and treatment.
Here are my top 5 "Self Help" steps:
- Get enough sleep. Most of need at least 7 hours of quality sleep every day. I know I need much more than that. If you are not getting the rest you need, everything is going to be an uphill battle. Do what you need to do to get the sleep your body craves. Follow good sleep hygiene, make sleep a priority and, if necessary, seek assistance from your healthcare team to get you on track.
- Use food as a tool. Using something you need to do anyway to get you where you want to be is one of my primary strategies for feeling good. In this case, I'm referring to eating. In your food choices, you can select things that are going to boost your mood, reduce inflammation, and hold energy levels steady; or you can pick what's going to make you fly the sugar high (then crash), lethargic, bloated, sick. My choice is to loosely follow the Mediterranean diet.
- Cut out alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant. While it gives you a boost momentarily, it is inevitably followed by a downward dip. Why make it harder on yourself? If you're not feeling good -or even if you are- minimize or eliminate alcohol to help you get or stay on track.
- Break a sweat every day. We know exercise is good for our health. But let me break it down for you this way: the natural endorphins produced by vigorous exercise will make you feel better while the anti-inflammatory and strengthening cascades you set off in your tissues will make your body work better. In the case of arthritis, I've often heard it said that "to feed a joint, you have to move a joint." Make sure you're medically cleared for any physical activity you're planning.
- Moving meditation. My father is an avid practitioner of meditation. I can't sit still that long. Instead, I turn to yoga and swimming laps as two effective ways I can turn off the incessant chatter of my mind, finding peace - albeit temporarily. The point is to make it a regular practice and it starts to become a more regular state of mind.
Other tools that I see as extremely useful are ensuring adequate nutrition by taking a good multivitamin every day. A B-complex vitamin is also useful in combating stress. Other effective over-the-counter therapies include omega-3 fatty acids, and aspirin/other NSAIDS and acetaminophen for their pain-relieving properties. I am also a fan of antidepressants, if you are in need of one. Taking care of your mental health bodes well for your physical health, and vice versa. Just make sure you talk to your doctor about any medication you plan to add to your regimen - including the over-the-counter variety (vitamins count).