Take charge of your pain with the basics: Diet, exercise and healthy sleep habits.
Pain affects every aspect of your life. It can challenge or change the activities you choose to do, the thoughts you have and even the sleep you get. This is because, in addition to your physical discomfort, pain can affect your mental and emotional health — increasing your stress and frustration, sapping your motivation and activity levels, and contributing to fatigue.
“Pain affects every aspect of our life, not just our physical existence. It can affect how we manage our tasks day-to-day,” says Dr. Tina Ardon, a Mayo Clinic family medicine physician. “It can affect how we interact with our friends, family and coworkers. It has an emotional and mental impact on our lives.” Dr. Ardon says to look at day-to-day activities for clues and tools for how to manage our pain overall. “Someone might have some challenges during their day, maybe not sleep so well, and those are places that we can do some work with to help improve their quality of life.”
There are several positive lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your pain.
“Lifestyle modifications are very important for helping someone manage their overall pain,” says Dr. Ardon. “Two important aspects to think about upfront are a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight. These two things can make great impacts on how someone deals with their pain.”
Pain is a source of stress. And when you feel stress, you may react in ways — such as tensing your muscles and gritting your teeth — that increase your pain. You can prevent this cycle by better managing your stress.
“Pain and stress feed off of each other, and this can lead to a vicious cycle for some patients,” says Dr. ardon “Pain, again, is a physical experience for patients, and stress exacerbates that for a lot of our patients as well. So looking at your day-to-day activities and what are common stressors for you can be a great starting point for helping reduce your stress and, likely, reducing your overall sense of pain as well.”
Write down the things that cause your stress, considering each part of your life, including work, relationships, home, poor health habits, and perfectionism or negative thinking.
“It is often really helpful to have a patient jot down their stressors and their triggers to look at the ways that they can improve those things in their lives,” says Dr. Ardon “For example, if someone were to find that their morning routine is really a big source of stress for them, looking at that routine to figure out if there are ways that they can alter that, perhaps even change some of those activities to the nighttime to alleviate a stress in the morning can show us that that will help reduce their stress and help with their pain overall.”
Then take a hard look at the list and think about ways you can minimize or even eliminate some triggers. If you’re stressed because you have too many obligations on your schedule, decide which ones you can remove. Learn to say no.
Practicing relaxation skills also helps you better manage stress. “Other techniques that can be helpful for reducing your day-to-day stress can be things like breathing exercises, meditation, visual imagery, and relaxation techniques,” says Dr. Ardon.”So learning these things can be helpful for managing those acute moments of stress in your day-to-day life.”