Constant physical pain or illness can make life pretty tough. It wears us down, makes us irritable and short tempered, and can leave us feeling quite depressed. The relationship between pain, physical health and emotional wellbeing is very close. Each affects the other. The good news is that there are things you can do to improve the way you cope with pain.
Are my aches and pains a problem?
There are all sorts of reasons why people experience chronic pain or more general ill health. You may have suffered an injury, or developed a disease or infection. Whatever the cause, aches and pains can affect our quality of life. Do they interfere with your relationships, making it harder to feel close to your kids, partner, or friends? Do they interfere with your ability to carry out your normal “role” – as a worker (or looking for work), a student, or a parent? Do they interfere with your ability to participate in activities and hobbies, things you used to enjoy? If the answer to any of these is yes, it is worth seeing if there is anything that can be done to ease your pain.
What sort of pain or illness are we talking about?
We could be talking about any sort of pain that interferes with your quality of life. By definition, chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than six months and affects how a person lives their daily life. Examples might include back pain, severe headaches, joint pain, and so on. Sometimes people’s general health isn’t great, and interferes with their quality of life. Common examples include nausea, stomach aches, constipation, or regular diarrhoea (which might be something called “irritable bowel syndrome”). There may be frequent pain in other parts of the body – headaches, neck pain, chest pains, and so on, that wouldn’t be classified as chronic pain, but is still there often enough that it causes a problem.
What can I do about it?
Several medical treatments may be used to help with chronic pain, including over-the-counter or prescription medications, physiotherapy, and even surgery. But these are only a few of the pieces necessary to solve the puzzle of chronic pain. Emotional problems and physical pain feed into each other – the more unhappy we are, the worse the pain and the harder it is to cope with. The worse the pain, the more unhappy (and angry, and frustrated) we become. It can quickly fall into a vicious downward spiral. So looking after your mental health and wellbeing is crucial to deal with pain effectively. But first, you need to do all you can to fix up the physical causes.
Find yourself a good GP
The first, and most important thing, is to make sure that you’ve been thoroughly checked out from a medical perspective. The best place to start is a good GP or family doctor. If you don’t have one, ask around among friends or neighbours for a recommendation. Do you have preferences (young or old, male or female, etc)? Then make an appointment (ask for a longer appointment the first time you go) and go in for a chat. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to him or her, then look for another one – it’s your right to choose a health practitioner who meets your needs. You might want to tell your doctor about your military history – that will help him/her to understand you a bit better and to make sure you get access to the best possible services. And once you’ve found the right doctor, stick to him/her!
Manage your mental health
Your mental and emotional health is a vital part of how you cope with pain and physical problems. There’s lots of information on how to cope with depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress on other parts of this site. Even though turning to alcohol or other drugsmight make you feel better in the short term, it does nothing to fix the underlying problems and causes all sorts of problems in the long run. And generally looking after yourself – eating well, getting plenty of rest, regular exercise (within the limits of your pain) will all help you to deal with stress and cope more effectively with chronic pain.
Watch your self-talk
Remind yourself that you are not a powerless victim of your pain; yes, it is uncomfortable but you are working on better ways to deal with it; you are going to live a productive and fulfilling life despite the pain. For more information on helpful thinking, check out the Thoughts tools on the High Res website and app.
When you are in pain, it is easy to stop doing anything and to shut yourself away – this is just about the worst thing you can do. Cutting yourself off from everyone and everything makes it much more likely that you’ll think negatively, focus on your pain, and feel worse. Try to become active and engaged. Distracting yourself from the pain by engaging in enjoyable and productive activities – even though it’s hard – will help you increase the positive aspects of your life. Focus on what you cando, not on what you can’t, and work out a plan. Try and find a hobby or a pastime that you enjoy and that helps you connect with family, friends, or other people in your community.
Get support from other people
Coping with chronic pain is much harder if you’re doing it alone. Try to spend time with friends and family – people you care about. You don’t have to talk about your pain, just be with other people. (It’s OK to talk about the pain sometimes, but not all the time!) Work out a plan to do this, maybe you could contact an old friend, organise to see a movie, have a coffee, or go to a sports game. You might want to join a club or a church, or perhaps a support group with others who are also experiencing chronic pain. Try to make sure you have some social contact every day. You might find some helpful strategies and guidance to help you build social connections on the High Res website and app.
There’s a lot you can do for yourself to manage your chronic pain or ill health, but it’s always a good idea to get the best possible help.
- Your GP can refer you to the most appropriate specialists, depending on what the issue is, and this includes psychologists or other mental health professionals who specialise in chronic pain.
- There are plenty of specialised pain management clinics around the country, with multidisciplinary teams to help you (psychologists and psychiatrist, physiotherapists, anaesthetists, occupational therapists, nurses, and so on). You can find them on the internet and a list is available at Pain Australia.
More information on strategies to manage chronic pain is available from:
- Ignoring mental health problems won’t make them go away. It’s okay to seek help.