9 Ways to Take Back Your Life: Living Well with Chronic Pain

Chronic pain doesn't have to take over your life. Here are ways you can take control.

If you think there's not much you can do to cope with your chronic pain, think again. You may not be able to stop it, but you can take steps to take back your life.

Sometimes, medication and surgeries may not be enough to cure pain. You may feel like chronic pain, pain that hasn't gone away for months or even years has taken over your life and your personality. It's little wonder that people with chronic pain often become depressed and anxious. They may dwell on all that they have lost: mobility, freedom and sense of self.

If this is you, it's time to take control of your life. Here's how:

1. Find a doctor you like and are comfortable with. You should be able to ask your doctor anything, and you should feel confident in your doctor's abilities and skill.

2. Put together a health care team. You are the maestro. This is your life and your body. Only you can judge the severity of your pain and how it is affecting your life. Your team, such as a pain specialist and a primary care doctor, should be working with you and communicating with each other.

3. Take a step back and look at your life. How much time do you spend thinking and talking about your pain? What hobbies or activities did you do before your pain developed or got worse? What would you like to be doing? How do you spend your days?

4. Exercise. It may seem like the last thing you want to do. You're in pain, so you don't want to move much because it might get worse. Look at it this way: If you don't exercise, you could be hurting your health and may actually make your pain worse. Exercise helps build your immune system, strengthen your heart and lungs and make you stronger. It can even improve your self-esteem and take your mind off your pain. Talk to your doctor first and get advice on the types of exercise that are best for you.

5. Relax your mind and your body. Try yoga or deep breathing to help you feel less anxious. Stress can cause your muscles to tense up without you realizing it. That can make your pain worse as well.

6. Care for your mental health. Chronic pain can cut deeply into your life. It can lead to loss of relationships with family and friends, loss of employment, loss of quality time, loss of finances and loss of self. These are overwhelming experiences that build slowly over time. Because of these things, you may be more likely to develop clinical depression with hallmark symptoms that can include sleep problems and anxiety. Such symptoms can certainly make your chronic pain feel worse - whether physically or emotionally. Pay attention to what your body and mind are telling you. If you think you may be depressed, talk to your doctor right away. By getting treated, you will be able to cope better and take better care of yourself.

7. Identify your feelings of helplessness. How much do you depend on others to help you? How do you view your pain? How much does it affect your life? How can you assert more independence? How does your chronic pain affect your family and friends? Does it take away from their lives as well? Therapy can help you and your family identify feelings and behaviors. It may even help you build bridges over many obstacles to your happiness.

8. Change your behavior. Your bad habits may take away the focus from your pain. In the long run, though, they are hurting your health: not getting enough sleep, choosing unhealthy foods that are high in fat and calories, smoking, using recreational drugs, not exercising and drinking too much alcohol. Remember, these are bad coping devices, not treatments to cure or relieve your pain. Look at your daily behaviors. Choose carrots over candy. Focus on lightening up a meal. Find healthy ways to relieve stress. Make changes slowly. It may take many months for your changes to take hold. So be patient.

9. Join a support group. Pain is a very unique experience. It can also be very isolating and lonely. Talking with others who also feel chronic pain will give you an outlet and add to your support system.