With all of the information swirling around about managing chronic pain, it can be difficult to sift through and incorporate the advice for reducing chronic pain. With so many different sources of information, narrowing recommendations down and implementing new lifestyle changes can be confusing. To keep it simple, we have narrowed it down to five lifestyle changes to help manage and reduce your chronic pain.
Improve Sleeping Habits
It is important to develop proper sleep hygiene in order to promote restful sleep. Sleep hygiene is simply developing and maintaining healthy sleep routines and habits. If you haven’t slept at night, fatigue and irritation may follow you throughout the day. These two things can increase your perception of chronic pain and make it more difficult to deal with.
Keep your bedroom cool (around 65˚ F). When you sleep, your body temperature drops. Keeping your bedroom chilly necessitates the use of more blankets, and the additional weight of the blankets will promote relaxing, restorative sleep.
Keep your bedroom neat and clean. A calm, cool bedroom that is tidy (no messy nightstands!) is welcoming and promotes restful slumber. Routinely empty trash, dust nightstands, and air out the room.
Body chemistry is important, too. Your body needs to generate melatonin to sleep, and it does that when the sun goes down. Keep the artificial “sun” down in your room by eliminating all digital devices in the bedroom, including clocks, phones, TVs, and anything else that emits light. Light is stimulating to the brain, and you want your brain to be quiet.
Set and stick to a sleep schedule. Regardless of what is going on, go to bed and wake up at the same time daily. This lifestyle change helps regulate the circadian rhythm of your body. Setting regular bedtimes and sticking to them helps your body know when to shut down for the night. Use blackout shades too if necessary to keep your room dark, and open them as the sun rises to help wake up.
Finally, use your bed only for sleeping and intimacy with your partner. Don’t work, check email, or read. Send your body the signal that when you get into bed and turn the light off, it’s time for rest. This may require some re-training, especially if you are used to watching TV in bed or checking your phone.
Make Positive Diet Changes
One of the easiest and hardest things to change to help reduce chronic pain is diet. It is easy because it does not require anything complicated, but making these lifestyle changes are hard because it requires us to reset patterns we may have followed since childhood. Here are some two simple rules to follow when changing your diet.
Eat food closest to its natural state. A whole apple is better than applesauce, but applesauce is better than juice. Chicken breast is better than chicken nuggets. Eating minimally processed food means you get the food into your body in its most nutritious state. If it comes in a box or a bag and has ingredients you cannot pronounce or identify, put it back on the shelf.
Eliminate added sugar. This is easy (just stop eating sugar) and very hard (just stop eating sugar?!) at the same time, but sugar increases inflammation in the body exponentially, offers empty calories with no nutritional value, and can lead to chronic, complicating illness such as Type 2 diabetes. If you only make one dietary lifestyle change, make it this one. The first couple days of eliminating sugar will be difficult, but it will get easier as time goes on. The bonus? Naturally sweet things such as fruit taste even sweeter!
This does not mean to go from zero exercise to marathon training. Incorporating exercise incrementally and making it something you enjoy will help you stick with this new lifestyle change. Research has proven that even minimal amounts of exercise have benefits for physical and mental health.
Try these easy lifestyle changes for increasing your daily movement:
- Park farther away from the entrance to stores
- Walk the dog every day
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Play outside with your kids
- Practice a relaxing form of strengthening exercise, like yoga or tai chi
- Play a team sport
Start a walking program of just five minutes a day, adding a couple minutes every other day or so until you are up to 20 to 30 minutes of daily walking. You won’t believe the increase in your energy and general sense of well-being!
Chronic pain is more than just physical. The daily stress of managing a condition that can be isolating can be overwhelming, especially if you have a limited support system in place. Managing stress can be crucial. You can manage stress through exercise, which can help lift your mood and increase your sense of well-being. You can also manage stress by finding a support group, either in person or online. Support groups are an excellent way to find people with shared experiences, those who have “been there, done that,” and can offer advice or just a supportive ear.
Drink More Water
We are chronically dehydrated, it seems, but there is conflicting information on how much water to drink every day. Many doctors advocate drinking just when you are thirsty, but that may not be enough. The Mayo Clinic advocates drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day for a minimal level of hydration. Most liquids count towards this total, including juicy fruit, coffee, and tea, but do keep in mind that additional activity and drinking alcohol can increase these needs. Women who are pregnant or nursing require additional fluids daily. When in doubt, over hydrate.
Water is crucial to good health, and not drinking enough of it can greatly increase symptoms of chronic pain (or add them in the case of headaches caused by dehydration!). Water keeps organs functioning smoothly, lubricates joints, and promotes good intestinal health. We are lucky in the U.S. to have clean and abundant water, and it is important to take advantage of it.
Making positive lifestyle changes to manage chronic pain needn’t be confusing or complicated. What changes have you made that have helped?
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