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Coping with chronic pain in this strange summer

We are now well over halfway through the summer. And it is a strange time for most of us.


Confusion and uncertainty for us all


We have to put up with a lot of confusion and uncertainty about so many things:

where we can go on holiday
if we should go back to the office
if we want to go out to a restaurant or a pub
how often we want to see relatives.

Some of us have loved this
opening up of our choice and are thoroughly enjoying things at the moment and their increased freedoms. They love being able to get out and about again.

Others are finding things harder. They feel anxious and confused about what is happening and what will happen next.

It is not as simple as saying all the new choices we have are welcome. I have met people who are dreading getting on a plane, commuting to work, or going to a noisy pub but feel they are killjoys if they say so.

Navigating this new world if you have chronic pain

This is the general world in which we are all living at the moment. We are all dealing with a very changed world which includes making decisions about social, work and relationship issues for the first time in a long time. We are all making the decisions that we feel are best for us in our own different ways.

But as I specialise in caring for people who have chronic pain, I want to focus this month on particular problems this strange summer can bring for anyone who is in this group.

The problems people with chronic pain face, will be very similar to what the general population is facing, but often there is an extra twist, and we need to learn about how we can cope with these and if these particular problems can be overcome.

What my clients are telling me about the situation

As is often the case, much of what I am going to say stems from what my wonderful clients have experienced and what they have told me over the past few weeks.

Fast-changing rules make it more difficult to plan for people with chronic pain

I see all the time that the changing situation around Covid can make things more difficult if you have chronic pain. One thing my clients have been telling me is that the uncertainty and constantly changing rules are making it more difficult to plan. This uncertainty has increased as the various lockdown rules have been eased.

For every relaxation, most of which most of us have cheered, there has been a new raft of decisions to make and plans to sort out. And often this has to be done quickly because the rules have changed quickly.

As you will know if you are a regular reader of this blog, or if you have read any of my books, I often use planning as a tool for coping with chronic pain. Throughout my career, I have seen so many clients get into situations that make it more difficult to cope with their pain because they have gone into a social or work situation without enough forethought about how they will cope. Now, I am seeing clients who have not been out much for a very long time suddenly faced with attending a big birthday party, a wedding, or an important back to the office meeting in two weeks’ time. Return to the office in particular can also feel unwelcome, or too rushed for many clients. I have some clients whose pain has certainly decreased while they have been working at home and they are now faced with the task of trying to hold on to these benefits.

I have always seen clients who have been very reluctant to attend an important event, such as a family wedding because they are afraid that their pain will ruin the day for them and for others. Nearly always we have been able to work out a good coping strategy. This includes things such as:

acknowledging limitations
developing good communication strategies to share with those who need to know what you need in any particular situation being clear about what you can and what you cannot do
using some mind techniques to calm and relax and distract from the pain
using some practical tips to ensure quiet time and a place to rest or to stretch and to exercise.

By doing these things, and by facing up to where this is difficult, we manage to get into a place where the client has a good day.

Remembering what you used to do to cope with chronic pain

I have to acknowledge that I have found doing this work with clients more challenging in the current situation then pre-Covid.

Of course, there is the fact that many of us haven’t been out in a social situation for well over a year. I have had to work out how I can help clients who have got out of practice at enjoying social situations.

One of the things I have been doing is memory work with clients. Sometimes I have used hypnosis to take a client back to a previous social situation that they enjoyed so they can remember what they did to stop the pain spoiling the day. As well as the fact we may have forgotten what worked for us, the social situations we will face will be a bit different.

Often, they are easier, fewer people can be good if you have chronic pain, but the difference can induce some anxiety.

And on the subject of anxiety, there is definitely more of it about. Anxiety can spread quickly. It is amazing how quickly we all pick up the signals of anxiety in others and it can induce anxiety in ourselves.

Anxiety is an increased problem

Anxiety is not good if you suffer from chronic pain. At the very least, it can tense your body which will by itself increase feelings of chronic pain. It can also muddle up our thinking processes, we are all familiar with that syndrome of racing unpleasant thoughts going around in a circle and making us feel even more anxious. When this happens, we tend to stop thinking logically, working out what we need to do next to maximise our well-being. We can then make poor decisions which can worsen our pain. Here I practice calming techniques with clients, these can break through the anxiety cycle and protect our good decision making.

A positive note to end

I have talked about some of the problems my clients have faced, now I want to finish by talking about the positive side. Generally, I find my clients in much better spirits and this means they are better able to manage their pain. Being able to go out more, meeting up with friends and family, seeing people out and about on the streets have all helped our mental health. Let us hope that this continues.

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