People with chronic pain often do too much when they’re having good days and not enough when they’re having bad days.
Chronic pain can cause us to overprotect ourselves. Our natural reaction to pain is to avoid activities that worsen our discomfort or increase our perceived risk of further damage. When we become overly fearful and stop doing things in anticipation of pain, we can make things worse.
Inactivity reduces our functional ability and decreases our strength and stamina. It also prevents us from getting involved in the social, leisure, and work activities we enjoy.
Pacing/moderation has become a common tool for people living with chronic pain to help provide them with balance. It includes setting time limits, slowing down (start low, go slow), breaking up tasks, and taking frequent short breaks.
But be careful not to let pacing become an excuse for not being active or avoiding pain. Doing so can add more focus to the pain, worsen symptoms, and reduce physical stamina.
Pacing should instead be used to gradually increase what we can do, despite the pain. Stay consistent with your activity.
The difference is in the goal and execution. Keep moving forward.
Learn more and do more
Cooper, Booker and Spanswick, 2003
Chronic pain can make it easy to feel overwhelmed, reduce our activity levels, and become isolated. Goals help restore a sense of order, build self-efficacy and sense of control, improve mood, and provide direction by helping with planning daily activities.
One of the tools we learned at the Mayo Clinic Pain Rehabilitation Center was goal setting to help us plan our days and keep us on track. We set goals each day. They didn't have to be massive, but they had to be SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Some SMART goal examples:
Did you notice none of the goal examples included pain reduction?
Our focus should be on reducing stress, improving our quality of life and increasing functional ability and activity, not pain reduction. Focusing on pain reduction is an easy trap to fall into - leading to frustration and depression. Just as the homepage of my website says - we can live well, despite the pain.
While it's natural to celebrate big goals, be sure to celebrate milestones along the way, as well as smaller victories. These celebrations keep us motivated along the way and help instill confidence.
Tom Bowen is a chronic pain patient who turned into an advocate, educator, and collaborator.