A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Experiencing pain? Try these coping skills

A woman and her daughter meditate.

Your mental and emotional wellness impacts how pain feels. Techniques and therapy provide skills to cope with pain mindfully.

Your mental health can impact how you cope with pain. You may be feeling more stress because of the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19. Building skills to manage your emotions and stressors can improve your daily function when living with pain.

Pain is a subjective experience that varies from person to person. You can’t detect pain in the same way as a broken bone or other physical injury, but its effects can have long-term impact.

Managing pain produces long-term benefits

It’s important to effectively manage your pain early, because left untreated it could lead to  chronic pain. Chronic pain lasts longer than six months and can influence how a person lives their daily life. “One in three adults live with pain,” said Heather Schmidt, director of quality and patient safety pain resource nurse specialist for Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Chronic pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.”

There are multiple ways to help decrease chronic pain, including over-the-counter or prescription medication, physical therapy and even surgery. However, taking care of your mental and emotional wellness can make a difference in how pain feels. Specific techniques and different therapy options help build resilience and teach skills to manage chronic pain mindfully.

By managing your thoughts and emotions, you can help mitigate the intensity of pain. This is called the gate control theory. Positive actions can close the gates that control pain signals so less pain signals go through to your brain. These positive sensations can override and reduce painful situations.

Emotional influence on physical pain

Decreasing stress in healthy ways can give you an advantage to cope with pain. A healthy diet with an active lifestyle and good sleep habits are positive coping skills to help you handle your stress levels.

Your mental health also plays a role in your stress levels. Focusing on positive things or a positive internal monologue can change your perceived comfort level and overall outlook. You can distract yourself from pain by engaging in activities you enjoy.

These methods can be used in conjunction with medications to create a pain management plan. In some cases they can be an alternative for medications. Opioids are a class of drugs that treat pain. They interact with your nerve cell receptors to reduce the intensity of pain signals and feelings of pain. However, opioids come with complications and long-term risks. You can build a tolerance to them where you need more to receive the same pain relief effect, which can lead to the development of dependence.

Instead of relying only on medications, try:

Work with your care team to set realistic pain management goals and a treatment plan that works best for you. “Discuss ways to manage your pain without prescription opioids,” Schmidt said. “Some of these options may actually work better and have fewer risks and side effects.”

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