The first, and most important thing is to make sure you’re thoroughly checked out from a medical perspective. The best place to start is your doctor. If you are no longer serving as a military member, you might want to tell your doctor about your military history – that will help him/her to understand you a bit better and to make sure you get access to the best possible services. And once you’ve found the right doctor, stick to ‘em!
Constant physical pain or illness can make life pretty tough. It wears you down, makes you irritable and short-tempered, and can leave you feeling quite depressed. The relationship between pain, physical health and emotional wellbeing is very close - each affects the other.
This section details the impact pain has on people’s lives and outlines the importance of finding a way to manage it.
What is Pain?
Pain is the body’s way of warning you that something is not right with your physical system, in this way the body tries to protect you from either getting damaged or causing more damage. The idea is that it hurts; so don’t do the thing that makes it hurt more.
There are two main types of pain:
This comes on suddenly, often from a direct cause (such as injuring yourself). This type of pain often goes away as you heal.
This is long-term (6 months or more) pain that can come from a bad injury or from diseases such as arthritis or nerve damage. This kind of pain is around for a long time (possibly life long) so management of it is vitally important to ensure a good quality of life.
While acute pain can develop into chronic pain (especially if you are ignoring serious signals), it is the long-term problem with pain that needs careful management. Pain is a natural part of life, but that is not to say that you necessarily have to let it keep you from doing the things you want to do.
When is it a problem?
There are all sorts of reasons why people experience chronic pain or more general ill health. You may have suffered an injury, or developed a disease or infection. Whatever the cause, aches and pains can affect our quality of life:
- Do they interfere with your relationships, making it harder to feel close to your kids, partner, or friends?
- Do they interfere with your ability to carry out your normal “role” in your job?
- Do they interfere with your ability to participate in activities or hobbies you used to enjoy?
- Do they make you feel down or frustrated a lot of the time?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then it’s affecting your life and it is worth seeing if there is anything that can be done about it.
What can I do about it?
Personal attitudes towards pain commonly include the thought that there is nothing to be done about it, or that it is only temporary and needs time to heal. Have you ever found yourself thinking:
- It will go away eventually
- I just have to put up with it
- I can tough it out
- I don’t want to be thought of as weak or a whinger
These are very common reasons that people give for not addressing their pain, but why endure something if it might be possible to make improvements.
Several medical treatments may be used to help with chronic pain, including over-the-counter or prescription medications, physiotherapy, and even surgery. But these are only a few of the pieces necessary to solve the puzzle of chronic pain.
Physical pain and emotional problems feed into each other – the more unhappy we are, the worse the pain and the harder it is to cope with. The worse the pain, the more unhappy (and angry, and frustrated) we become. It can quickly fall into a vicious downward spiral. So looking after your mental health and wellbeing is crucial to deal with pain effectively. But first, you need to do all you can to fix the physical causes.
Contact your doctor
Manage your pain
Make sure that you stay aware and on top of your pain medication usage. Be aware of the possible risks and dangers of over-medication, tolerance, and addiction e.g. for codeine-based products.
If you find you are craving or needing more medication to get through your day, talk to your doctor.
Manage your mental health
Your mental and emotional health is a vital part of how you cope with pain and physical problems. There’s lots of information on how to cope with depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress on other parts of this site.
Even though turning to alcohol or other drugs might make you feel better in the short term, it does nothing to fix the underlying problems and causes all sorts of problems in the long run. And generally looking after yourself – eating well, getting plenty of rest, regular exercise (within the limits of your pain) will all help you to deal with stress and cope more effectively with chronic pain.
Watch your ‘self-talk’
Try to catch your negative, unhelpful thoughts and focus instead on more positive aspects. By focusing on the improvements you are making (maybe the pain is less today than yesterday, or you were able to meet up with mates), you can make a big difference to how you cope with pain.
Remind yourself that you are not a powerless victim of your pain; yes, it is uncomfortable but you are working on better ways to deal with it; you are going to live a productive and fulfilling life despite the pain.
When you are in pain, it is easy to stop doing anything and to shut yourself away – this is just about the worst thing you can do. Cutting yourself off from everyone and everything makes it much more likely that you’ll think negatively, focus on your pain, and feel worse.
Try to become active and engaged. Distracting yourself from the pain by engaging in enjoyable and productive activities – even though it’s hard – will help you increase the positive aspects of your life. Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t, and work out a plan. Try and find a hobby or a pastime that you enjoy and that helps you connect with family, friends, or other people in your community.
Even with pain, you can still be active – it just might be that you have to do things in a slightly different way. People with pain find it helpful to take frequent breaks when doing things
Get support from other people
Coping with chronic pain is much harder if you’re doing it alone. Try to spend time with friends and family – people you care about. You don’t have to talk about your pain, just be with other people (It’s OK to talk about the pain sometimes, but not all the time!).
Work out a plan to do this, maybe you could contact an old friend, organise to see a movie, have a coffee, or go to a sports game. You might want to join a club or a church, or perhaps a support group with others who are also experiencing chronic pain.
Try to make sure you have some social contact every day. You might find some helpful strategies and guidance to help you build support on the Resilience toolkit.
There’s a lot you can do for yourself to manage your chronic pain or ill health, but it’s always a good idea to get the best possible help.
Your doctor can refer you to the most appropriate specialists, depending on what the issue is, and this includes psychologists or other mental health professionals who specialise in chronic pain.