Chronic pain and how to experience a better life

Chronic pain or long- term injury and the accompanying physical discomfort, occupies the mind and thoughts and may impact our whole lives, resulting in mental and emotional challenges. When we
are in pain, we are suffering. Suffering not only as a result of experiencing pain but also suffering because of the limitations we are now faced with, such as no longer being able to do something we loved and enjoyed.


To tackle chronic pain and suffering it is best to take a holistic approach, not just considering
material needs but physical, social, emotional needs and spiritual well-being.
Breathing exercises can help to regulate our physical responses. Our breath is a powerful tool that we can use at home to soothe restlessness, stress and helps manage pain. Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing is a deep breathing exercise that taps into our body’s relaxation response. A typical way to start using this practice is as follows:

  •  Sit or lie in a comfortable place
  • Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen
  • Inhale through your nose for about 4 seconds imagining there is a balloon in your abdomen
    that you are trying to inflate.
  • As you breathe in feel your abdomen expand
  • Hold for 2 seconds
  • Exhale though your mouth very slowly and steadily for about 4 seconds
  • Repeat for 5-10 minutes

It is essential to practice this frequently even when the pain is minimal and not wait until the
pain builds. Practicing breathing exercises regularly results in using this technique more effectively. Mindfulness is also helpful in dealing with pain and suffering. Mindfulness is the state of being conscious and aware of something rather than being on ‘auto pilot’. It assists in being present in the here and now while calmly acknowledging and accepting our bodily sensations and feelings. One of the hardest components to pain and suffering is acceptance. Accepting that this is where we are at now. This can be particularly difficult for athletes or those who spend a lot of time being physically active. This presents a real loss and the reaction to the loss is similar to the reaction we have when we are grieving. We move through stages like anger, denial and questioning before acceptance. Psychological support may be required to validate these feelings and to process the loss.

Reframing our thoughts to focus on what we can do rather than what we cannot do is crucial to getting the most out of our lives. When we focus on the negative aspects we develop a negative frame of mind which can be draining and lead us to have low mood and tiredness. Focusing on the positive aspects and what we are capable of doing now is more beneficial, and helps to take pleasure from the small things we can do every day. Keeping a gratitude journal and writing down things we are grateful for on a daily basis can assist in reframing out mind-set.

Relationships are part of our foundation for health and well-being and they can come in various forms including family, friends, colleagues and intimate partners. Chronic pain may have a significant impact on a person’s social relationships and can be a key trigger for the development of anxiety, depression and anger. For individual living with the pain, they find they are left managing the mental, emotional and physical toll pain takes on them and for the individual watching they may find that they are left struggling to understand how to help and support which can lend to feelings of helplessness. It might be helpful to learn about chronic pain, and may allow for greater empathy and understanding of your loved ones pain. Offering support, asking what can be done to assist a loved one, and asking what they are feeling helps gain an understanding and assist in helping in a more effective way. Also encouraging your loved one to continue to be independent as much as possible allows them to maintain self-efficacy and their self -confidence.

Long –term chronic pain may also be viewed as a body-mind-spiritual problem and a multifaceted approach is necessary in order for a solution to be found. Contemporary spiritual practices can be a necessary element of effective chronic pain management plan. For many individuals spiritual interventions like traditional prayer and meditation contribute to the reduction of the sense of pain and suffering.

In all of this, having support and providing support to those experiencing pain is crucial for pain management. Working together towards a solution and strengthening the relationship provides a clear path to experiencing a better life.

Sinead Fahy