Many chronic pain sufferers find themselves avoiding social situations because they feel their pain limits the activities in which they can engage. Reduced social interaction often leads to feelings of depression, guilt and can make symptoms worse. As a pain therapist, I see many individuals who feel isolated because of their pain, and find it difficult to maintain friendships during the recovery process. Here are my tips for nurturing your relationships while taking steps to conquer your pain.
Chronic pain sufferers tend to withdraw from social activities either because their pain is preventing them from doing the same activities they used to do, or because they have an idea of what their social life should look like and are disappointed when their expectation doesn’t match the reality. Avoiding social activity all together can exacerbate negative feelings and cause symptoms of pain to worsen. The first step to enjoying time with family and friends while suffering from chronic pain is to let go of the expectations set by your previous social life, and accept a temporary change while you manage and treat your pain.
Have Realistic Expectations of Yourself
Thinking positively about these changes and being creative can help the transition to a new level of activity. Try illustrating your previous social life on a piece of paper; document the experiences you enjoy with family and friends, the places you visit and the activities you engage in together. Use this process to write about how you feel about no longer being able to take part in these activities.
After completing this exercise, take a moment to look at this picture of your life, let out all of the frustration and pressure you feel, and say goodbye to it; compassionately encouraging yourself that you will be able to return to these things in the future. While undergoing a pain therapy programme and after completing pain therapy, you may begin to return to a lifestyle similar to the one you illustrated, or even better, but having realistic expectations of your capabilities will help avoid feelings of guilt and disappointment in the meantime.
Gradually Add Activities to Your Schedule
The next step is to create a plan for your new social life which enables you to carry on with activities without causing yourself further pain or fatigue. Make a note of people you would like to spend time with, who energise you and nurture those relationships. Try to limit the time you spend with people who drain you or cause you stress. Based on the way you are feeling as you complete this activity, make a list of things you feel capable of doing that won’t worsen your pain or cause fatigue.
After you have identified suitable activities, ask yourself if you need to set a time limit or make adjustments to the activity in order to avoid exhausting yourself. It is a good idea to document these social activities in a journal, identifying how you felt, what worked well, and what could be changed to make it more comfortable. After assessing how you managed social activities, you can begin to gradually add more and more activity to your schedule and make your social life look much more like the picture you drew before.
The process of managing and recovering from pain can be testing on relationships with loved ones. Gradually returning to previous levels of activity can help alleviate feelings of negativity, help reduce levels of pain, and aid your recovery. My approach treats pain at its origins and enables chronic pain sufferers to achieve long term relief from pain. Get in touch if you would like to become pain free for good.