September is National Pain Awareness Month, so this is an excellent time to discuss the correlation between physical pain and mental health.
All pain, including physical and emotional, is either chronic or acute. Acute pain is often caused by an injury where initial care and mild or prescription drugs offer relief, the pain subsides with time, and life again feels normal. Chronic pain is another story. It often requires a person to explore regular medical care to manage the persistent and enduring pain so they might function more fully and have more moments of enjoying friends and activities.
Chronic pain can be the root of addiction and obesity and mental disruption such as depression and anxiety. When everyday movement hurts, it’s easy to reach for the little magic pill bottle and sit in the recliner until nature calls or hunger hits. Chronic pain is real and can be debilitating. If you have chronic pain, your daily routine likely revolves around finding relief from the exhaustion caused by performing simple tasks and trying this, that, and something or anything that might help.
I empathize with people with acute pain because I have been there many times when I have fallen, broken bones, sprained ankles, and bled. I can only offer sympathy, not empathy, for people with chronic pain—I’ve not been there myself. But I know that managing pain isn’t just physical; it involves mental wellness skills. I’m not saying we imagine pain, but we are what we think. How we mentally process our pain contributes to or hinders the power pain has on our daily lives. What we think about grows, and if thinking and saying, “It hurts SO bad!” stops us from pushing through physical therapy or isolating ourselves from social activities, the pain wins. I doubt if pain is at the forefront of any woman or man’s thoughts when they get up, dress up, and go out with friends to gossip and giggle. It’s there, but it doesn’t dominate.
We have all seen examples of and probably marveled at, people who rise above or move through excruciating, nonstop pain. You must know they accomplish that by caring for physical problems and controlling what runs around in their minds—our brains and bodies work together.
The best medical staff knows that helping someone keep their spirits up is as key to managing pain as contributing knowledge of what and how much medication is needed.
Even when you know it’s not true when you say, “It’s not that bad!” thinking it repeatedly helps the brain park pain in the backseat so you can enjoy the ride just a little bit more.
Until the next time: Live while you live.
Jennifer Goble, Ph.D., LPC, is the author of “My Clients…My Teachers,” and the blogger and writer of Rural Women Stories: www.ruralwomenstories.com.
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