Mini-relaxations can be helpful for frequent de-stressing throughout the day. Techniques include taking a deep breath and blowing out through pursed or unpursed lips slowly to the count of 10. Children can pretend that they are blowing bubbles. Be aware that breath-holding and increased tension can increase pain. Here is an exercise that can demonstrate this point:
Make a fist and notice what happens to your breath. ... Most people hold their breath or breathe short, shallow breaths. Now make a fist and keep breathing. A fist is harder to make when the breath is allowed to flow in and out.
Focusing on a word, phrase or your breath for 10 to 20 minutes, once a day, can be helpful in balancing the stress caused by chronic pain and/or illness. Likewise, the use of relaxation tapes, prayers or activities such as yoga or Tai Chi can help relax the mind and body. Visualization and hypnosis techniques may help decrease pain symptoms or assist with relaxation.
These techniques all have the potential for eliciting the "relaxation response," a natural calming response that can be trained in humans. However, this repetitive focusing of your mind is not the same as "relaxing." Sleeping, reading a book, watching TV or listening to music will not produce the same results as this repetitive focusing of the mind.
People with chronic pain will have flare-ups, a worsening of their pain. Preparing for this inevitable event helps get through it. There are several ways that this can be approached. Writing down your pain treatment plans for the "everyday" pain and the flare-up pain can assist with assuring confidence that you can get through this. Identifying more than just medications to get through a flare and making those plans very detailed can give you the control back. For example:
- Medication: What medication and dose
- Call a friend: Who and their phone number
- Watch a movie: Which one and where to get it
- Stretch: Which exercises
- Lie down: How long and do what
People in chronic pain must do their activities differently than when they weren't in pain. If they do, they will find that they can eventually be more active and have less pain. External cueing of uptime and downtime activities is important. Using a timer, for example, is helpful in the beginning.
A good example is a person with back pain who determines that standing increases pain after 15 minutes and sitting brings it back to baseline. They then rearrange their daily activities to alternate standing for 15 minutes with sitting for 20 minutes.
Aerobic exercise, which requires oxygen, elevates heart rate through sustained movements of the body at moderate intensity. Activities such as brisk walking, swimming and stationary bicycling are considered aerobic exercise. There is a long list of diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle, e.g., heart disease, obesity and osteoporosis. The risk of developing these disorders can be reduced by regular aerobic exercise. Being in pain doesn't mean you should neglect overall health and well-being.
For people in pain, water exercises can be especially relaxing because you lose about 70 percent of gravity's effect in water. Since movement is so much easier in water, there's a tendency to exercise longer and harder. It's always best to start out low and slow.
Writing can be very therapeutic and doesn't need to be shared with anyone to have powerful effects. The narrative repair is the name given to the technique of writing about stressful or traumatic events. Writing in a diary or journaling is certainly not new, but research into the powerful healing effects of putting words down on paper is. There appears to be an evolving process as an individual continues to write, the narrative repair, that is associated with bringing coherence or meaning to a traumatic or life-changing experience. Bringing meaning to the pain experience can be an important step to healing, decreasing long-term disability or making peace with death.