Monday, February 2, 2009

Pain and Stress - Sibling Rivalry

Those of us who battle chronic pain are often confronted with depression- caused either through the medications designed to bring us relief from the ache, or caused by the illness for which we are being treated. Depression is still an unknown in the medical community, and yet medications are given to chronic pain patients that were once considered mind meds, only. Not surprisingly, the side effects from the anti-depressants are often those that mirror illnesses such as Lupus, Crohn's Disease, and even bronchial disorders. But, the one factor that seems to cause enhancement of both pain and depression is the stress of every day life.

The country is experiencing financial failures. Our families are in constant battle between job security, cost of everyday items, health care rates and insurance premiums. The education system seems to be constantly put aside for more bailouts for wealthy banking systems. The housing market hasn't been stable in many years, and Social Security is not very secure at all. With all the issues of life unavoidable, and certainly unmanageable, it appears the health of pain sufferers is greatly reduced. Stress and pain are married. We are the ones who have to wonder, what can we do to stop this stress so that the pain is at least somewhat under control?

Life is not a managed state of being. It's moments strung together by events, people, unexpected moments, and certainly unexpected health issues. We don't have a say from one day to the next in anything that happens around us, but we DO have a say in how we respond to these events, people, locations, and situations. Our response is the one thing that can help stop unnecessary pain. There are specific stress triggers and responses we can elect to have that will help us cope better.

Road rage- as someone who experienced it as a passenger, as a driver, and on the roadways with others who seem to lose their minds once driving- I know it's part of the stress of anyone who is behind the wheel. Twelve or so years ago, I was living in San Francisco, and battling a commute that although was short in distance, was hours in time. My left knee dislocated many times as I used the clutch to lower gears and I found the pain unbearable. Add the anger of those who are in no mood to be behind a slower driver, (riding in the right lane, by the way), and you'll see a lot of grumpy gas guzzling SUV's swerving in and out, fingers flipping, and dozens of near accidents, and a few on-purposes. Back then, as traffic slowed, I'd blow kids Bubbles out the window. Generally that was distracting to me, and I never felt the ire as others would huff around me.

Everyone has SOMETHING that is of interest-whether it be music, sports, television shows, puzzles- whatever it is, you have something that you enjoy that's not car related. By simply tuning your radio, MP3 player, or CD player to the one thing you enjoy, you can help reduce your own aggravation on the roads. For those in public transportation- it's a great time to pick up hobbies like knitting, reading, word games, and even learning something through the free college courses found on the podcasts online. If the place you are in causes you stress, mentally remove yourself from that place.

People- We all have someone who may talk too loudly. There may be someone who has a habit of rambling when you want silence. There may be someone who never talks and you need to be socially active. Someone may be a busy-body, while another may be distant and misguided about your life or intentions. Whomever it is, or however you know them...people cause stress.

The one thing you can do to prevent people causing stress in your life is learn that people are who they are no matter what we want them to be. The only way we can let people NOT affect us is to completely remove them from our lives. If that's not an option, such as a co-worker or a family member, your only option is to find something within yourself that will distract you from the other person. For instance- if you see the color blue and enjoy it, start to look for the color blue when that person is getting on your last nerve. The distraction puts you in the moment- and being in the moment is about not letting things build up in your emotional closet.

What about situations? Can you really take your mind off of situations such as job loss, bill paying, taxes, broken cars, or even insomnia? Does hearing the news about Iraq, seeing an animal abused, or knowing about a kid losing a parent become part of your every day life? Worry is the primary source of stress for most people. Worrying only leads to two things- an outcome that is exactly what you pictured, and were unable to change despite your worry, and an outcome that was absolutely wonderful, and you worried for nothing. Worry is a self-perpetuating emotion. We worry and we worry about what we worry about, and we worry about not worrying. It's an emotion that eats at us the way children wolf down Halloween Candy.

We are going to be faced with life issues that are completely out of our control. Someone may be laid off because the company is laying people off. A car may break down simply because it's had one mile too many. We may be unable to pay our bills. This is a life that is full of events and trauma that isn't within our control. But, we can do small things that make us feel a little bit more centered, and a little bit more part of the solution instead of a victim of our circumstances. If you can't earn money, find small ways to save money instead. If you can't find a job, find ways to make the skills you have more marketable. There are free university courses on line, and even more through podcasts. If you find that you have limited transportation, think of it as a way to improve your health by giving you a chance to walk, ride a bike, or even run.

Stress doesn't have to run your life. It doesn't have to add to your chronic illness or chronic pain. It can be as much controlled as your hair color, your diet, and your choices in friends. All you need to do is understand that you will have times that feel out of control. You will get through them. You will learn to live life as if the days you have are the greatest days you've ever had. If you don't, you'll find the pain stronger. You'll accept that you are not a person who can grow and learn from the life around you.

When all of these factors are present, and you still have issues with pain that are exacerbated by the stress around you, there is a method of relaxation that was studied and proven effective by the Deaconess Hospital, Harvard Medical, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institutes, and even Tufts. The method is called The Mind/Body Technique. Using simple breathing exercises, and cognitive recognition, you can learn to handle stress by learning how to live in the present. Several books exist on this, and can walk you through the techniques. Many people intuitively talk themselves down from feeling overwhelmed, but for those of us with chronic illnesses and pain it sometimes helps to attend workshops and meet others with similar issues. You won't need medication, you won't need equipment. You just need the ability to sit quietly for a few moments.

Today's questions- What ideas do you have for removing stress from your life? Do you find a hobby or a pet distract you from your pain? Do you have a friend, co-worker, or even an acquaintance you find able to listen to you when you are feeling overwhelmed?

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