Top ten tips for coping with pain
After being hit by a red light jumping car in March 2014 I’ve battled with pain for years through my recovery and wanted to share some of the tips I’ve used to help coping with pain and cope with every day life. For more on my accident please read here.
- Take your painkillers: the magic with painkillers is that they really can work. But even low over the counter doses can become much more powerful, if taken correctly [always follow doctors orders]. Taking a painkiller every so often is far less effective than taking them back-to-back. This continual dosage builds a base of pain relief. Therefore if you know, you’re going to have pain stick with the dosage prescribed by your doctor and keep that base-level pain relief going and stick rigorously to the timings.
- Use distractions: the magic of keeping your mind occupied really does help one to keep off their focus from the constant pain. For me having uplifting country music or chilled out relaxing tunes, finding a TV series to keep me hooked, watching the odd movie or even reading a book all helped in occupying the brain away from how my physical self-was feeling.
- Don’t ignore the pain: pain is there for a reason; normally it is the body’s way of highlighting that an area of the body needs healing energies. Ignore this at your peril. Ultimately, if doing something causes an above 4/10 pain, I would say avoid doing it. I would also recommend focusing some mental energy on the areas of pain to shift your mental and physical energy to this point; it can only help in the healing process [Mindfulness is a great tool for this – see point 8].
- Get some treat food: by this, I certainly don’t mean junk food; I mean something that is going to excite you but will still provide much-needed nutrition for your recovery. For me, this was lovely sweet mangoes or grapefruit. These are both items I don’t normally justify the cost of but are invaluable as a little treat pick-me-up, something to enjoy and look forward too. Sometimes it is the simple things.
- Don’t push your friends and family away: when in pain it is so easy to isolate yourself and push people away. You’ll be amazed how much uplift even a 5-minute phone call can provide, yes it takes some energy, but it is worth it.
- Be aware of the effect your pain has on you: be conscious that you might be a little moody, snap, or burst out from anger. It is only natural when in such discomfort. The trick is simply trying to recognise it. You want / need people around you, and ultimately they will be hurting too through seeing and sympathising with your pain. Try to let them in and support, and try as much as you can not to let the effects of your pain come out on them, if you do [which I certainly did] just be aware of it and say sorry. They are there to help and will understand. An apology goes a long way and might just help you get the next cup of tea you’re longing for.
- Try to keep on top of life: yes pain is crippling and can lead to not leaving the house; however, pain is affected by perception. Therefore if you perceive that your pain is preventing you from attending a friend’s birthday, seeing your favourite movie release, going to your Dad’s 60th, then it is going to give you a very downing perception, which will actually add to the level of pain. Try, and function in life, even a trip to Tesco for milk had a huge uplift effect for me. Yes, I then paid the price for the rest of the day, but I was simply out of the house.
- Stay positive: this is a lot harder that one can imagine. It takes a lot of mental strength. I found the art of Mindfulness Practice really helpful [this is a great place to start with some simple guides and steps: http://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/]. The key to positivity for me is that, no matter how bad things get they could be worse [I could have died in the accident for example, but I didn’t], and there are always things you can count your blessings for. Try to absorb the environment around you, savour the smell of fresh air, enjoy the soft feeling of your bed sheets, and smile at the birds in the garden. Basically be thankful for what you do have. Even on low days, there are people who would give the left arm to be where you are. Life is precious, so cherish it.
- Conscious mind: using elements of DBT remember you have the ability to control your mind. Try to recognise the triggers in behavour that see you push the body to far or the mental triggers where you get upset. What first happens? Do you turn stubborn and decide to just grit your teeth? Could you spot this with a conscious mind and break the cycle? A good read on this is here.
- Stop taking your painkillers: yes you need them for pain, but painkillers can have some terrible side effects and cause all kinds of problems from nausea, constipation, headaches, itching and so much more, including addiction. It is really important that you control your pain, but it is also important that you get off the painkillers as soon as you can. Start slowly but the uplift you will have when the side effects go is very much worth it.
In March 2014 I was hit by a red light jumping car while cycling home from work. It was a life-changing moment; my physical and mental recovery has been long and challenging. Today, years since the accident my body has been through a lot, countless steroid injections, months and months of physiotherapy, key-hole surgery followed by full ACJ shoulder reconstruction, multiple hip surgeries, and all of it meant high levels of pain over a prolonged period of time.
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