Chronic pain is a great deceiver. Many people who suffer from chronic pain look like they feel fine on the outside. To look at them, you would never know anything was wrong. Chronic pain sufferers often have learned how to manage their pain and do not complain even when they are having a bad day…which just perpetuates the problem of chronic pain sufferers not being recognized for the degree of suffering they experience, not being believed by doctors, family and friends, and ultimately not having their pain sufficiently treated.
There are different degrees of chronic pain. Some are almost completely debilitating and some are almost fully functional with minor life adjustments. One thing is true for all who suffer chronic pain, they need to be acknowledged, they need to be heard and they need to be supported.
Why is support so crucial for patients with chronic pain? The pain they deal with can be very isolating. They are often not able to go out and do things they want or need to do because their symptoms are too incapacitating. Their social connections may be limited due to this as well. Because they feel a loss of control over their lives, chronic pain can take a tough emotional toll. Depression can be a comorbidity to chronic pain and should be watched closely by a medical provider. Maintaining friendships and family relationships allows your loved one to feel less alone, to feel loved and this by itself can reduces stress, which will have a positive impact on symptoms.
Ways you can help:
Figure out what they need help with and ask if you can do it.
If your loved one is having a tough day, figure out what they need help with and ask them if they would allow you to help or even do the task for them. Depending on where they are with their symptoms, this may be exactly what they need. Keep an open dialogue about how they are feeling, so you know what days are better than others and when helping out would be most beneficial.
Encourage positive thinking.
Reminding a chronic pain sufferer that there are bright sides to focus on can help him or her better deal with and even reduce symptoms. Some days it may be difficult for someone in pain to find a bright side, but a person who loves them can usually come through with something positive to think about. Distraction can be an excellent way to keep the mood positive, and staying positive yourself in your demeanor and conversation can work wonders to help a chronic pain sufferer build confidence in their own ability to stay on the positive side of things. This doesn’t mean their feelings should be dismissed or that any of their symptoms are not valid. Those things should all still be acknowledged and validated.
Learn about their condition
Find out as much about what your loved one is going through as possible. It will help you understand their symptoms and figure out how you can best help them. Too often, family, friends and even doctors become frustrated because they don’t understand an illness that they cannot see, and this can lead to placing guilt on the person who is suffering. Research and education can help you understand that this is not something that is “all in their head.”
Encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Encouraging gentle and consistent exercise (when they feel up to it) can reduce stress and symptoms. Healthy eating and consuming lots of water can do a world of good for all of us, not just chronic pain sufferers. Lead by example, share great recipes and talk about how you feel good when you eat well and exercise. Offer to prepare meals together which encourages social interaction and results in a healthy meal. Getting out to the swimming pool, a walk through the neighborhood or the gym are also great ways to combine maintaining good health with social interaction which can make a pain sufferer feel better physically and mentally. Be sure to respect their limits as they may not feel able to do as much as you, so do not pressure them…allow them to go at their own pace.
With love, support and encouragement, you can make a big difference in a chronic pain sufferer’s life.