I live with fibromyalgia and arthritis, as well as bipolar disorder, and I know from personal experience how hard it can be to manage your chronic pain during times of stress. Our mind and body are connected, meaning that our emotions can have a significant impact on our physical symptoms. Unfortunately, stress can worsen chronic pain and cause flares in symptoms. As much as I do my best to manage my stress levels, during times like these it can be difficult to keep a handle on things.
Worries about the current situation, about the unknown and what is yet to come, combined with changes in routine can make stress levels skyrocket. Stress isn’t the only thing affecting chronic pain patients during this difficult time. For many of us, our medical appointments are no longer a priority due to the pandemic, so we may not be able to see our doctor or keep up with therapy appointments we usually attend.
I use exercise primarily to reduce my stress levels, to control my mental health and reduce my chronic pain symptoms, but right now exercise is limited due to regulations. While the regulations are completely necessary and understandable, I’ve found it really difficult to manage my pain without my usual hiking trips to the countryside.
As difficult as this all seems, we have to find ways to adapt and adjust, to allow us to effectively manage our chronic pain symptoms in the best way we can. I want to share some tips I’ve been finding useful to manage my chronic pain during this pandemic.
1. Talk things through.
As cliche as it sounds, when things are on your mind, talking it through really can make a difference. Speaking to someone, whether it’s a loved one or calling a hotline, can allow you to get things off your chest. Carrying problems around can make you feel alone and causes them to build up, contributing to stress.
2. Control “coronavirus talk.”
It’s hard to avoid talk of the coronavirus. It’s in the news, it’s on social media and likely your loved ones are talking about it. Hearing about it all the time can make you tense, and make it difficult to distract yourself or reduce stress levels.
You can combat this by limiting the amount of time you watch or read the news. You can even turn off news notifications on your phone. You could mute words and phrases on your social media feed, so you can limit what coronavirus talk you see. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with those around you and ask them not to talk about the coronavirus with you unless you bring it up.
3. Maintain good self-management.
Remember to stick to your usual self-management practices, such as trying your best to keep a sleep routine (even though it’s easier said than done), taking your medications on time and eating a balanced diet.
4. Use telehealth to continue with appointments if it’s available.
If you aren’t able to attend your usual appointments, consider asking your doctor or therapist if they can carry out appointments over the phone or via video call.
5. Continue therapy techniques and exercises at home.
There are a wide range of effective pain management techniques and treatments available for chronic pain patients. Even if you can’t continue with your usual therapy at the moment, it’s important you do your best to keep up with the pain management techniques you’ve been taught. If your pain isn’t being treated, now is a great time to do some research to prepare yourself to seek effective help.
6. Maximize exercise.
Even if you can’t attend physical therapy or other exercise programs right now, you can exercise from your living room! There are some great low-impact exercise routines online.
If you’re able to go out for your one exercise a day, make sure you make the most of this. Plan a route that you feel you will enjoy and take the time to soak up the feeling of being outdoors.
7. Maintain a routine as much as possible.
The majority of people’s routines have been disrupted, so it’s important to find a new routine. It’s important to have that motivation and purpose to keep us going.
8. Combat isolation.
Isolation is common for those with chronic pain, and of course, right now this is even more of a problem. This sense of isolation can be really tough to cope with emotionally and can actually worsen the experience of chronic pain, so it’s important to find ways to counteract this.
Keep in touch with your loved ones via social media, text, phone and video calls. You could even set fun challenges or events via video call to make you feel less alone. My family and I have been doing virtual quiz nights every weekend which gives us something to look forward to, provides structure and is really fun!
However you’re coping with your pain, please know that if you’re doing your best, you are doing well! These are trying times for all of us, so remember to be kind to yourself.
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