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Forget self-care — it’s not working!

Chronic pain and self-care

Alex (not her real name) came to see me feeling utterly defeated by unexplained chronic pain that she’d been having for several years. During our check-in, on the verge of tears, she gave a big sigh and said, “I’m doing all the ‘right’ things — I do yoga, I meditate, I eat healthy food. So why am I still in so much pain all the time?! I don’t know what else I can do!”

My heart went out to her.

Despite all her healthy habits, it felt to her like there was nothing left to try, and that she’d be stuck with the pain forever. What good was all this self-care when the pain still kept coming back?

But, as I told Alex, I know it’s really disheartening, but don’t give up — every bit counts!

Doing those things that keep your body and soul happy is still vital for your overall happiness and health, and without them your pain might be quite a bit worse. Self-care goes a long way to powering your healing process.

So why are you still in pain?

With issues like migraines and chronic pain or chronic fatigue, often the triggers are below our conscious control. Your nervous system — the part of you that regulates pain — has gone out of balance and gets easily triggered into pain mode where it cycles without being able to release. The good news? You can train your nervous system to balance itself again. You have more power to heal than you think.

One of effective way to manage chronic pain is also really simple.

Are you in pain right now? Try this tiny bit of self-care with a difference:

   Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet on the ground, and your back supported.

   Eyes closed, take a few slow breaths. Notice any body tension and allowing your exhale to carry it down your legs and out your feet.

   Now notice a part of your body that is in pain, and breathe into it. Place a hand there, if you like. (If your pain is hard to pinpoint to one area, just pick a place in your body.)

Here’s the important part:

Really pay attention to all the sensations there — perhaps texture, hardness, temperature, size and shape — and notice how they shift. Continue breathing normally and observing for one minute.

   End by taking a long breath, exhaling down your legs and into the ground.

How does that area feel right now? How is your overall pain level?

Try to do this throughout the day whenever you notice your pain, or while you’re on a break. It’s a great thing to do, lying in bed, to ease you into sleep.

How is this different from other kinds of self-care?

What you just did there was to begin calming your nervous system through connecting to your body. It’s that simple. (Well, the physiology of it is actually complex and amazing, but the tools are simple!) By regularly connecting in to your body and training your nervous system to calm itself, you’ve got effective tools for managing your chronic pain.

Let’s hear from you:

Do share your observations from doing the exercise.

What do you do for self-care? How do you feel when your symptoms aren’t clearing up even when you’ve been taking care of yourself? Do you notice a difference when you skip your practice or your self-nourishing activities? What inspires you to keep going?

Share your thoughts below!


(CC image courtesy of r. nial bradshaw on Flickr)