By Amy Orr, author of Taming Chronic Pain: A Management Guide for a More Enjoyable Life
No one needs to tell you that living with chronic pain is, well, a pain. Everything is just harder: it’s harder to work, harder to sleep, harder to think, harder to eat, harder to get through the day. Those of us who have been living with chronic pain for a long time have developed strategies to cope — little things to make each day just that bit easier.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Slow Cooker
Slow cookers let you throw all of the ingredients in, then forget about it. The meal will cook itself without any further effort from you. This works for preparing meals in advance, for example, setting it at night for the next day’s breakfast.
- Batch Cooking
Batch cooking similarly helps with cooking fatigue; when able, make a whole batch of something, then freeze it into individual portions, to be reheated whenever.
- Place Items in Reach
Place the items you use more often on accessible shelves, to avoid having to stretch or bend over. This will save you on the bad days, by making whatever chore you’re doing as easy as possible.
- Tidy As You Go
Tackle chores in small, bite-size pieces. This avoids unnecessary fatigue, and relieves pressure. If you tidy up as you go, you won’t be faced with a single large task at the end of the day that you have to do, regardless of how you feel.
- Hire Help
If there are difficult or bigger chores, consider hiring some help. A cleaner doesn’t have to come every week – maybe you only need someone once a month to scrub the floors. But if it saves you unnecessary pain, it’s worth it.
- Prioritize Your Day
Not everything on your to-do list can be urgent. If you’re a busy person, make sure you organize your schedule so there is only one or two critical items within each week. Leave yourself wiggle room for flares or fatigue.
Taking Care of Yourself
- Explore Sleep Props
Use whatever you need to give yourself the best possible chance of a good night’s sleep. This could include: a better mattress, ergonomic pillows, cooling pillows, specialty pillows, pregnancy pillows, or bed wedges. It doesn’t matter who it was designed for – if it works, use it!
- Grooming Accessories
On those days you can’t manage a shower, avoid feeling gross with products like dry shampoo and wet wipes. If you’re able to shower, a shower chair (or modified lawn chair placed in the shower) can keep you safe. And hair wraps let you avoid having to blow-dry your hair.
- Heat Pads & Cooling Packs
There are a lot of different heat pads, ice packs, cooling masks, or combination temperature therapy packs; they come in a range of sizes and shapes, and soothe aches and reduce inflammation. Leave the ice pack and cooling mask in the freezer all the time, and find heat packs that can go in the microwave for quick use.
- Comfortable Clothing & Soft Fabrics
Make sure you have at least a few comfy options clean at all times. Soft materials are better, as are stretchy fabrics; yoga pants and soft layers will prevent further physical discomfort. Avoid tight clothes or anything sharp or rough. Don’t be dragged into a fashion debate – wear what makes you most comfortable.
- Inflatable Pillow & Fold-Up Chair
Keep a folding or deck chair in your car, as well as an inflatable pillow and blanket. Many travel pillows are compact in size and will fit in your purse. There are also lightweight, portable back supports for chairs, that you can easily transfer from the car to any chair.
Leave an audiobook playing as a way to distract yourself during pain, or as something to gently lull you to sleep. If you’re struggling to follow the plot, children’s books are perfect for an easy, non-stressful listen.
- Set a Time Limit for Events
Socializing is very important for your mental health. For occasions when you want to say “yes”, consider setting yourself a few hard limits to avoid breaching your physical boundaries. For example, set yourself a “must be gone by” time so you can still get the rest you need but participate in the fun.
- Google Everything
If you’re going out for dinner, check out the restaurant online beforehand. You can find out what they serve, the seating options, any accessibility issues, and more. You might find alternatives you wouldn’t otherwise have known about, or you may realize you are able to do something you thought you couldn’t. Addressing uncertainty proactively gives you the best shot at success.
- Calm Your Nervous System
Finding activities, habits or hobbies that help calm your nervous system will, over time, help you cope with and even alleviate pain. This could be anything – a hot bath, a manicure, a massage, a cuddle, meditating… as long as it makes you feel calmer and more relaxed, it is helping your body.
- Pill Organizers & Medication Alarms
A pill organizer (daily or weekly) is a very effective way of ensuring you always have your daily meds with you, and that you don’t forget any. Similarly, medical alarms through apps or via a wearable fitness tracker will keep your medication schedule consistent.
- Symptom Diary for Doctors
A simple symptom diary listing date, time, symptoms, severity, and medications will help you and your doctor frame your discussions, and will give you a better understanding of how your body works. It doesn’t have to be long – short notes suffice.
- Contact Physicians via Health Portals
A lot of health clinics have online portals for arranging appointments, retrieving test results, asking questions and sending information. Use these as much as you can; they allow you to phrase your questions or concerns in your own time, in your own words.
- Personal Trainer with Medical Experience
If you can, find a personal trainer or physiotherapist with a strong medical background, who can show you effective ways to exercise without stressing problem areas. It is particularly important to know how to properly stretch, so even on bad days you can alleviate tension.
Those of us who have been dealing with chronic pain for a long time already know that there’s no such thing as perfect; there is no perfect coping strategy, and every day is different. The important thing with coping strategies is to develop a suite of options for yourself, applicable to a range of situations, so that every day, no matter how you’re feeling, you have something you can do to make it just a little easier for yourself.
Amy Orr is a U.S. Pain Foundation Junior Ambassador and author. Her new book, Taming Chronic Pain: A Management Guide for a More Enjoyable Life, has hundreds of tips just like these. Amy has suffered from chronic pain for most of her life, and has an array of autoimmune disorders. Her work is centered on patient-led advocacy and care, and is based on over a decade of researching chronic pain while managing her own. Check out all of Amy’s work at www.amyorrbooks.com.