Anyone who’s experienced chronic pain understands how pain can be isolating. Pain can make it more challenging to get out of the house, or on some days, to even get out of bed. But there are also more subtle reasons. Maybe it’s fear that doing too much activity will cause a flare-up afterwards, or that pain will make it impossible to follow through on a commitment. Or it could be a concern about getting unwanted questions about the pain from someone who doesn't quite get it.
That said, it’s vitally important to make an effort to participate in social activities despite the pain. Humans are social creatures; while we all have different preferences about how we spend time with others, we need social connections to function. Specifically with pain, a network of people who love you can help you get through the many challenges that come up with chronic pain. In fact, research shows that stronger social connections can actually decrease the sensation of pain. One reason: people with strong relationships tend to have higher levels of endorphins, a chemical in our brains that makes us happier and can reduce pain.
Maybe you’re thinking: “Obviously most people want to be social! But how to do it despite the pain?” For all the reasons noted above, chronic pain does makes it harder. How can you overcome those obstacles? Here are a few ideas to try:
· Pace yourself. Don’t make too many plans with too many people, especially if you haven’t participated in many social activities recently. If you resolve to become more social, it can be tempting to try to see all the friends and family you haven’t seen because of the pain; but going overboard can discourage you by causing flare-ups that keep you stuck at home. Focus on quality time with people you care about, rather than trying to get to every acquaintance, and start slow and build your way up.
· Make specific plans regularly. Every week, try making a specific plan with a person or a group of people at the beginning of the week. Making and committing to a plan in advance makes it easier to follow through.
· Surround yourself with people who are empathetic but who don’t treat you as unable to function. It’s important that your loved ones walk the delicate balance between understanding your pain for what it is but not encouraging you to let your pain control you. That’s a really tough balance, so treasure the people who find it.
· Find support groups of other people with chronic pain. The American Chronic Pain Association and US Pain Foundation can direct you to in-person and online support groups. It can be helpful to connect with people who understand what you’re going through.
Whatever helps you forge connections with others is valuable; when you find something that works for you, there's no time better than now to take advantage of it.
What helps you participate in social events and activities? Share with us in the comments below.
Want to learn evidence-based strategies to manage your pain, with the support of a coach?
Sources and further reading:
American Chronic Pain Association – Support Groups, from https://theacpa.org/Support-Groups.
Hammond, M. (n.d.). A Guide to Continuing Social Activity for Chronic Pain Sufferers. Retrieved August 24, 2017, from https://www.healingpain.co.uk/single-post/Guide-Continuing-Social-Activity-Chronic-Pain-Sufferers
Miller, Sarah. (2016, April 28). Having More Friends May Mean Feeling Less Pain. Retrieved August 24, 2017, from https://www.livescience.com/54580-friendship-pain-tolerance.html
Princess in the Tower. (2016, April 29). The Isolating Loneliness of Chronic Pain & Invisible Illness. Retrieved August 24, 2017, from http://princessinthetower.org/the-isolating-loneliness-of-chronic-pain-invisible-illness/
Sprouse-Blum AS, Smith G, Sugai D, Parsa FD. Understanding Endorphins and Their Importance in Pain Management. Hawaii Medical Journal. 2010;69(3):70-71.
US Pain Foundation Support Groups from https://www.uspainfoundation.org/support-groups/