Distractions As A Tool For Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is a chronic problem that too many people live with on a daily basis. It can be debilitating physically, but it can also chip away at you mentally. It’s perhaps unsurprising that rates of stress, depression and anxiety are often higher in those living with chronic pain. It’s good to get out of your head and away from the pain every now and then, which is where small distractions can be a useful management tool.
Distractions can be excellent for improving our attitude and overall mood, which has a knock-on effect to how we handle chronic illness and pain. Distractions aren’t going to rid you of pain by any means, but they can form part of a multi-disciplinary approach to making your day to day a little brighter. They can reduce stress and help give our brains and bodies a break, diverting our attention away from the problems faced and towards something else temporarily.
Building in a few distractions each day can help in taking the edge off the mental and physical damage wreaked by pain, and it can flesh out your life a little to make it more meaningful and enjoyable. Here are 10 suggestions to get you started.
1. Arts & Crafts
Arts & crafts projects can be a source of enjoyment, distraction and achievement, while also giving us an outlet to express ourselves. The best bit is that there are so many types of activities that you’re sure to find something that suits your interests and abilities.
Step away from perfectionism, lay down the guilt of not dealing with your to-do list, and get involved in bringing some colour and creativity into your life. A few examples : Painting, digital art, sewing, crochet, knitting, paper cutting crafts, origami, pencil drawings, jewellery making, charcoal, finger painting, colouring in, manga, comic strip drawing, DIY craft makes, candle making, etc.
Release your inner child & have some pure, unabashed fun. Dig out the board games if you have another person or a few of you at home able to join in. There are countless board games available online, from classic old-school games to contemporary easy-going options. Scrabble, Jenga, Monopoly, Cards Against Humanity, Obama Llama, they all count.
If you’re playing solo, think about word games, sun dials (a selection of letters where you need to make new words of 4+ letters always using one particular letter in each), Sudoku, wordsearch or crosswords.
If you’ve got a games console, computer or handheld device then computer games are an obvious choice. If you tend to play the same things all the time, why not shake things up and try something completely different. Go for sports or dance games to get you moving if you usually play shoot ’em ups, or try some brain training on your phone if you usually play social media games.
3. Distractions In Nature
Getting out into nature can be both grounding and refreshing. It’s not as easy with the pandemic and many of us still shielding or reducing how often we leave the house, but if you can safely get out or go into your garden then take the chance to breathe it all in.
Enjoy the solitude and peace, focusing on your breathing and posture. Notice the sounds, watch the birds and insects, enjoy the colours of the flowers. If you can get a walk in too that would help blow away the cobwebs and up your endorphins at the same time.
4. Pets & Animals
If you’ve got a pet or can safely go to a farm park, zoo or animal shelter of some kind, spending time with an animal can be very soothing. They can also offer a myriad of benefits, including stress relief by lowering cortisol, reducing blood pressure, improving our mood and reducing loneliness.
If you can’t be with animals in person, scrolling Insta to aww at cute photos is a convenient alternative.
By improving our mood, distracting us and reducing our stress, animals can help with pain management physically and psychologically.
Music can be a powerful source of company, comfort, motivation and inspiration. I used to listen to music all the time when I was younger, but with life going off the tracks, work taking over and depression hitting, it went by the wayside. It’s the same story for many people over time so adding some music might just bring some brightness to your days, too.
Choose your music to match your mood or cultivate the feelings you want to feel. Go for old-school classics that give you that warm, fuzzy feeling. Play upbeat tracks to uplift you when you’re feeling disheartened. Listen to calming music when you’re anxious and stressed. Have a singalong and lose yourself in the music when pain is getting too much.
Picking up a good book can be like balm for the soul. Get as comfortable as you can, grab a warm drink and settle in.
I always used to prefer ‘real’ books, and I still do, but during lockdown I started reading eBooks and I’ve fallen in love because it’s so convenient and there’s endless choice right at your fingertips. You can buy individual Kindle books on Amazon, but they also offer an ‘Unlimited’ service to get more for your money. If you’re new to Kindle books on Amazon, or haven’t used the service in a while, you might be eligible for a free trial. You can see if you’re eligible for a free Kindle Unlimited trial in the UK here or an Amazon US Kindle Unlimited trial here.
Audiobooks provide an accessible alternative that also includes podcasts, and the same thing goes for the free trial Amazon service. Check to see if you’re eligible for an Amazon UK Audible trial here or an Amazon US audible trial here.
It’s also worth taking a look at your local library’s website. In the UK, different counties have their own eBook services where you can borrow ebooks for free just using your library card. The caveat is that the range won’t be as extensive as Kindle & you might have to ‘hold’ and wait in line to read your choice of book(s), but it’s still free. I’ve listed all of the library websites by county where you can kind the ebook catalogue offerings here.
7. Breathing Exercises with Meditation & Mindfulness
Breathing is obviously crucial to life, but it’s also something we often don’t give much thought to unless we develop problems with it. How well do you really breathe?
Take some deep belly breaths, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, holding each breath for a few seconds before releasing. Notice the sensations as your lungs fill with fresh air.
You’ll find different breathing exercises online designed for different purposes. For example, they may help to energise you, calm oncoming panic attacks, clear the lungs, increase oxygen flow to reduce the possibility of worsening infections if you’ve had damage to the lungs or ribs, and so on.
Focusing on your breathing is also a key tenant in mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness helps us to slow down and appreciate the small, simple joys, and meditation can allow us to take a step back from the business and get some perspective.
Everyone will have their own experience and opinion on the likes of mindfulness and meditation, but many people find them very beneficial. I’ll add a caveat here because I’ve found, from personal experience, that body scans have the opposite effect when it comes to pain. Body scans have, for me, directed my attention to the pain, which only served to amplify it. I personally find that general breathing, mindfulness and meditation, without body scans, are most beneficial.
8. Lose Yourself In A Hobby
Lose yourself in a hobby, whether it’s jigsaw puzzles, stamp collecting, taking photos or writing, anything that captures your attention and gives you a sense of enjoyment. Hobbies could be to pass the time, but they can also broaden your horizons. Online courses, of which there are numerous free ones online, can be interesting and enlightening, opening up your world without you having the leave the house.
9. Get Social
I’m more of an introvert, with chronic fatigue even a little socialising and conversation can be incredibly exhausting. However, if you get caught up in catching up with people, you can change tracks in your mind and get our of your head for a while.
10. Laughter Injection
Laughter is an excellent therapy that I think should be on prescription. In dealing with chronic illness, especially with my stoma, I’ve found that the ability to laugh at myself has been vital to acceptance and getting past shame and embarrassment.
Finding things to laugh at brightens the mood and lets in a crack of light to otherwise dark days. Sometimes we need to search out the funnies, so grab yourself a joke book, scroll for funny animal photos, browse YouTube for comical clips, click through funny memes, and flex those chuckle muscles.
Check out July’s Memes & Funnies for a few giggles.
Do you find distractions helpful for reducing stress, boosting your mood and/or managing chronic pain? What are your preferred distractions?