10 Proven Ways to Manage Stress with Chronic Pain.

The experience of living with chronic pain can be very stressful. Being in pain in itself is hard to cope with, never mind combining that with trying to function despite your symptoms! It’s tough going and stress levels can quickly rise.

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How can you best manage stress from dealing with chronic pain?

Dealing with stress on a daily basis is a difficult task. Add chronic pain, mental illness or both to the mix and it’s becomes almost an impossible feat. However, it’s important to remember that stress management is possible even when suffering from such conditions.

Ann-marie has kindly contributed this incredibly important post to help others suffering from stress due to chronic pain. Ann-Marie D’Arcy-Sharpe is a thirty-three-year-old freelance writer and blogger. She lives with bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia and arthritis, and knows all too well the stress that accompanies chronic pain.

“I write for Pathways Pain Relief, a chronic pain relief app and blog. The app is created by pain patients and backed by the latest pain science. We use mind-body therapies to help pain patients achieve natural, long-lasting pain relief.”

You can check out Pathways blog here and download the app. Also be sure to check out Anne-marie’s twitter and follow her for future articles.


10 ways to manage stress with chronic pain.

By Ann-Marie D’Arcy-Sharpe.

The experience of living with chronic pain can be very stressful. Being in pain in itself is hard to cope with, never mind combining that with trying to function despite your symptoms! It’s tough going and stress levels can quickly rise. 

I live with fibromyalgia, arthritis and bipolar disorder, so managing my chronic illness and mental health can be a delicate balancing act. Doing my best to keep my stress levels low and controlling my emotions is key to being able to function and to enjoy my life. It’s far easier said than done, and it’s not always perfect, but it is possible!

So why is it vital to keep stress levels low? Well, not only does keeping stress under control help you to feel better emotionally, stress actually causes and worsens chronic pain! The body is not designed to be stuck in a prolonged state of ‘fight or flight’, and when this happens it can really take its toll. 

This study explains that, “a prolonged or exaggerated stress response may perpetuate cortisol dysfunction, widespread inflammation, and pain.” Essentially, the stress hormones released during prolonged periods become detrimental to your body, causing muscle tension, inflammation, increased chronic pain, a lower immune system and a whole host of other problems.

As daunting as this sounds, there are plenty of ways to manage your stress levels.

To read more about stress and anxiety relief, be sure to check out this post.

1. Talking about how you feel

Getting worries off your chest can help you to see things from a clearer perspective. You could share your feelings with a therapist, a loved one or even a hotline if you would feel more comfortable talking to someone anonymously. 

Sharing your problems with someone you trust can feel as though a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. Whether they are just there to listen quietly or are able to offer you some useful advice, it can be a great step in actively reducing your stress levels.

Not sure how to manage stress with chronic illness? Check out this post for additional help!

2. Seeking treatment for your chronic pain

Since chronic pain can cause stress within itself, seeking effective treatment for your chronic pain can help to reduce stress levels. There are many scientifically proven treatments and self-management techniques available which can help pain patients reduce their symptoms, regain their functioning and overcome their pain. Some of the treatments available include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychical therapy and graded motor imagery. 

You can seek treatment from your doctor, privately or online through remote treatment. Make sure you do your research and figure out what is best for you. You can find out all of your treatment options here

3. Practicing self care.

Self care is so important in reducing stress levels. This doesn’t just mean setting aside time to relax, although this is vital too. Self care refers to, “The actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness.”  For example keeping up with regular personal hygiene, taking any prescribed medications and setting boundaries with others in your life just to name a few.  

4. Eating well.

It might sound cliche but eating a healthy, balanced diet really helps your body and your mind to function properly. This becomes even more important when you have extra health challenges like chronic pain. This doesn’t mean you need to ‘diet’ or deprive yourself of treats: it’s about finding a healthy balance that is sustainable for the long term. 

5. Exercising.

Exercise can be a great way to reduce stress. During exercise hormones known as endorphins are released which help to boost your mood, make you feel more positive and reduce your perception of pain at the same time! Levels of serotonin (a hormone which helps us to maintain a stable mood among other vital jobs) are also increased during exercise. Not only that but levels cortisol (the stress hormone) are reduced, meaning exercise actively helps you to reduce stress. 

You may be understandably skeptical when you read about exercise and its benefits for those with chronic pain. We’re often told that ‘if we just exercise more our chronic pain will be cured’. As much as exercise isn’t a quick fix, and of course chronic pain makes it difficult to exercise, the benefits can be well worth the effort. With the right treatment and a gradual approach, you find ways to exercise that work for you, building them up over time. 

This study discovered that throughout three separate occasions, participants who engaged in yoga, “were significantly less anxious, tense, depressed, angry, fatigued, and confused after class than before on all three occasions.”

6. Mindfulness.

You’ll likely have heard about mindfulness all over the internet, but there really is a reason that mindfulness is talked about so much. Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment. Instead of allowing your mind to think about the past or worry about the future, you focus on what is happening here and now. 

Mindfulness often involves meditation, breathing exercises or visualization. However, mindfulness can also be incorporated into daily tasks to help you stay in a calm mindset.

Once you get the hang of mindfulness, it can be an incredibly valuable tool in reducing stress levels and helping you to control your emotions. 

An article from the American Psychological Association discusses the evidence behind mindfulness, and explains that, “findings are consistent with evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety and negative affect.”

If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness and the science behind why it can help you (and how you can realistically use mindfulness in your daily life), check out our comprehensive guide to mindfulness

7. Dealing with stressors in your life.

If there are things in your life which you know are causing you stress, dealing with them head on can actively reduce your stress levels. This may take time and hard work, but figuring out how to deal with stressors in a productive way can be invaluable. 

8. Trying to maintain a routine.

Creating a routine can allow you to feel more stable emotionally and in control of your life. Part of this routine should be a good sleep schedule. While this can be tough when you live with chronic pain, it’s important to try to maintain as much regular sleep as possible. Things that I find helpful include going to bed and getting up at the same time, regardless of how I’ve slept; limiting naps during the day as much as possible, and keeping active to wear my body out. 

9. Distraction.

When you feel stress levels rising, a great way of coping is distraction. Keeping your mind and body busy helps you to shift your focus. Whether it’s putting some of your favourite music on and singing along (and even dancing if you can), going for a walk, or doing some arts and crafts: whatever lifts your mood and helps you to improve your mindset is what matters. 

10. Being kind to yourself.

Remember that if you are trying your best to manage your stress levels, that’s all you can do and that is more than good enough! If things don’t go to plan, that doesn’t mean you have failed. Especially right now, things are tough for all of us, so it becomes even more important to be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Encourage yourself. If something goes wrong, you can try again tomorrow. 


References.

  • Daphne M. Davis, PhD, and Jeffrey A. Hayes, PhD, (2012), “What are the benefits of mindfulness?”  APA Office of CE in Psychology, Vol 43, No. 7
  • Bonnie G. Berger & David R. Owen, (1987), “Stress Reduction and Mood Enhancement in Four Exercise Modes: Swimming, Body Conditioning, Hatha Yoga, and Fencing”. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport , Volume 59, 1988 – Issue 2
  • The Self Care Forum, (2020), “What do we mean by self care and why is it good for people?”
  • Kara E. Hannibal, Mark D. Bishop, (2014), “Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation”.  Physical Therapy, Volume 94, Issue 12, 1 December 2014, Pages 1816–1825

88 comments

  1. This is an important post. I have had a chronic illness (3-year transplant survivor). Dealing with that and stress was challenging! These are good tips for managing!

  2. This is great. I don’t have a chronic illness but I did just get over gallbladder disease by having surgery and I was so miserable and anxious Everytime I had to eat. I was so worried about having an attack. It’s a terrible feeling!

  3. This post is so informative and wonderful to read. I deal with similar issues including fibro, anxiety and neuropathy. Stress makes everything worse. These tips are very useful!

  4. This isn’t something that I suffer with but these tips seem really informative and helpful so I hope they benefit some people!

  5. All important tips. I particularly like the one about being kind to yourself. We could all use more of that.

  6. Stress is never good in any aspect. Some people think it only effects the blood pressure when it doesnt just effect your BP. I get knots on my neck when I am stressing. Which in turn effects my back and the pain I deal with there.

  7. This is such a helpful post. I completely agree with the need to talk about things, because everything seems so much worse when it’s all bottled up inside.

  8. My friends mother suffers greatly from chronic pain. Thank you for the tips, I will have to pass them on to her.

  9. I’ve been sick for a couple months now, and I have definitely noticed it is harder for me to deal with stress lately. I need some more self care in my days and let others fend for themselves for a change.

  10. Thank you for these tips! Self care is SO important. I know that I often forget just how big of an impact it can have my mental and emotional health and well-being. This is a much-needed reminder. I will be passing this on to a few other people that could really benefit from reading it.

  11. Oh this post is simpy great! Two years ago, I was rushed to the ER and everybody thought I’m having a stroke attack. They told me I have a bulged disc and suffering from degenerative disc disease. Fast forward, I took the therapies needed due to severe pain I had suffered. It was so stressful, but yes I agree I had to speak about it and deal about it. It’s really a choice if you want to embrace pain or just help yourself get out of it as quickly as possible.

  12. I’m definitely passing this on to a few people I know who deal with chronic pain.

  13. This is an absolutely wonderful guide for dealing with stress with chronic pain! I’m a new chronic pain sufferer as of 2018 (ugh), and I have to admit I haven’t been dealing with it all that well. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on doctor’s visits, physical therapy, and surgery only to have them say there’s nothing to be done. That being said, I have been trying to keep up with a lot of what you mention above: exercise, eating right. But I feel particularly inspired reading about mindfulness…I think I need to meditate and go to regular therapy. I know it would help a lot. Thank you for this post!

  14. I find mindfulness does calm me down. Being kind to yourself! Great tip. Thanks!

  15. These are some wonderful tips. While I don’t suffer with chronic pain (I can only imagine how tough it must be) I think these are some really good points for looking after yourself in general. I particularly find keeping a routine really good at keeping me grounded when I’m feeling stressed. Thanks for sharing! x

  16. I used to work in a ward with chronic pain patients, so can only imagine how hard it is with stress on top. You’ve given some great tips, thanks for sharing them.

  17. I think it is a very important post. Stress is inevitable for so many people, we have to find a walk around it

  18. Great reminder in times we are today. I relate to it because I had to deal with choric pain alone but came out stronger but surely would have been easier with loved ones.

  19. These are great tips! We should definitely have self care indeed. Stress is very normal but having a chronic pain, it can really stress out a lot.

  20. I live with so much anxiety and I could not imagine having pain everyday to deal with. This article was a great informative read and I really hope it gives hope to people suffering.

  21. I cannot imagine what it is like living with prolonged chronic pain as well as the added challenge of a mental illness. It is great to know that there are ways to help anyone cope with this on a daily basis. Thanks for sharing.

  22. This is a beautiful and helpful article! Talking about how one is feeling is so important and having some tools like this article to manage stress is key! Thanks for this article!

  23. Reading this came at a perfect time! I was just talking with a friend yesterday who is dealing with chronic pain and not being able to get in for a necessary surgery to correct the issue due to coronavirus concerns. She talked about how much having a routine has helped, but I will have to pass this on to give her other ideas!

  24. Talking things out with someone else is super helpful. Able to get a different perspective. I am trying to participate in self care which is great to help with stress. Helpful post.

  25. a walk in the greens is my idea of dealing with all kind of stresses, even when it pain, it refreshes me so much that I feel much more energised and I think its one of the best way to help oneself

  26. It’s amazing how destructive stress can be for our body. I love all your tools to help get rid of stress and live a life with as little pain as possible.

  27. Thank you so much for stopping in and reading Marie. Ann-Marie has done an excellent job on this article and I am so, so grateful.

  28. Yoga is amazing for my joint pain but then on other days I’m unable to do very much with it. But it can help stretch the joints when they need it.
    Thank you for reading pet. x

  29. My stomach acts up with even a hint of gluten sometimes, and other times it’s fine! It’s so stressful to keep up with what my body is reacting to because it always seems to be something different.

  30. It’s important that we recognize our own triggers so that we can learn what to do in order to remain well.
    Thank you so much for reading and commenting x

  31. They certainly can. Toxic people can be the main source of negative energy. Thank you for the reminder and also thank you for popping in. x

  32. I love this! Especially self care and being kind to yourself. I really think those two go a long way in easing stress.

  33. this is very helpful and informative. I believe in the wonders of taking care of our own self not only physically but also mentally. thank you for sharing this!

  34. The relationship between stress and chronic pain is so real and daunting to deal with. And honestly, the fact that Ann-marie can even get out of bed and start her day with all of those health issues is amazing. Her research and writing will do great things to help us all work through this difficult stuff.

  35. As usual this is informative and research-based article. The way of stress management with chronic pain are good for all of those who are facing the stress with chronic pain. Thanks for sharing this valuable information with us.

  36. Ugh welcome to my world. I struggle with chronic back pain. It used to be better when I saw a chiropractor, but they’re SO expensive and my insurance didn’t cover the visits so I had to stop.

    I just got an acupressure mat and I’m really hoping it helps. And exercise helps too, especially yoga!

  37. My husband has chronic pain which has caused reduced mobility. I know he is frustrated with his health condition right now. As much as I encourage him to exercise, (at least do some stretching), he would not take any of that because he said it will only cause him more pain. I will try the other tips you’ve mentioned in this post. Hopefully, these can help to ease some of the pain.

  38. I can never imagine being in chronic pain. I have a very low pain tolerance. These are great coping tips!

  39. This was such a helpful post to read. I have a chronic illness – and obviously, that brings pain along with it. Combine that with tons of stress, running my own business, and dealing with multiple mental illnesses… it’s a recipe for disaster if it isn’t managed properly. I appreciate this!

  40. I so understand the stress with chronic illness. I have food allergy related asthma and it is stressful to eat out as one bite of the foods I am allergic to can give me severe breathing problems

  41. I don’t have chronic pain but this tips can be used for everyone.And yes, I believe in the power of exercise me and self care not only helps fiscally, it will help your self-esteem.

  42. I don’t really have chronic pain but I do have a chronic digestive issue, ulcerative colitis. I manage it pretty well using many of these tips but when I get bad flare ups it is always because of extremely stresslful life events….So important to manage it.

  43. Yes I try to do many of these. Self care is important and I make sure I do it daily. I love to read, so I make sure to always have time for it.

  44. This is a wonderful and informative post. I am sharing with my sister in law as she suffers from Chronic Pain and I would love for her to find ways that work for her to help relieve this issue. Thank you for the tips!

  45. Great post. I try to do a few of these things to help with my stress and chronic illness. I have learned a few to add to what I do already.

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