Over 50 million Americans deal with chronic pain. Chronic pain is recurring pain each day or most days for a significant amount of months and longer. Unlike an acute pain that happens because of a direct injury or illness, chronic pain is a persistent pain many adults live with every day. Advances in the health industry are improving the future of those with chronic pain. With the opioid epidemic, it is now time to treat chronic pain wholly and not just with medication. Some of these advances are studies that have determined what can make chronic pain worse, therefore realizing certain lifestyle changes can improve pain management of chronic pain.
In the 2008 Health Psychology, a study was published with findings showing among individuals with chronic pain, high levels of anger are often associated with greater muscle tension, pain severity, and pain behaviors. Just as with fear, anger starts the ‘fight or flight’ response in our bodies. This preparation consists of the adrenal glands secreting adrenaline and cortisol and an increase in body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Blood is also pumped to the muscles for possible exertion. Because anger affects much of the body physically, it results in more pain. From tension to inflammation, chronic pain is made worse.
Since anger worsens chronic pain, it must be managed. First, it might be time to recognize signs of uncontrolled anger…being impatient, agitation, verbal outbursts, sleep issues, eating problems, slamming or hitting, poor concentration, the feeling of losing control, and obsession over a situation. Once someone becomes aware of anger, the next step is to realize what triggers the anger. And when these are recognized, the 3rd step is to learn new behaviors to control the anger and better communicate feelings. This change will help to eliminate unnecessary worsening of chronic pain.
The inflammation resulting from anger causes worse pain. With chronic pain patients, the inflammation must be regulated or controlled. Another source of inflammation comes from a poor diet. A healthy diet will support a healthy immune system while a poor diet will cause the immune system to act abnormally, causing consistent inflammation. The immune system is essentially reacting to the poor diet as it would an infection. But more important than avoiding all foods that cause inflammation is maintaining a balanced plate that is made of half whole grains and healthy proteins and the other half with mostly vegetables and some fruit.
Chronic pain, poor sleep, depression and/or anxiety can be a cycle that just continuously results in the next issue. The cycle must be broken to improve pain management.
Healthy sleep should be a goal. Healthy sleep is at around 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Those with chronic pain however, have difficulty being comfortable enough to fall asleep or perhaps waking because of pain. Healthy sleep can relax tension and sleep is time for the body to regenerate and heal.
Besides reducing inflammation from working on anger and diet, there are habits to begin/stop doing that helps sleep. First, eliminate caffeine intake altogether, but if you do consume caffeine make sure no later than 6 hours before bedtime. Also, stop drinking fluids 4 hours before bedtime, unless in the smallest, necessary amount.
Next, keep the same bed time each day, this routine is very important with our ‘internal clocks.’ Our bodies are designed to rest and when it is not consistent, the body reacts to the confusion.
Finally, change your routine by creating a calm environment for sleeping. No loud sounds, low or no lights, and no electronics. And invest in learning and implementing relaxation techniques. This relaxation or meditation will calm the central nervous system.