21 Ways to Cope with a Chronic Pain Flare

Chronic pain flares are hard. Practice these strategies to make them just a little bit easier.

  • Get Out the Grief. Have a good cry. Let yourself be sad. Don’t put on a positive act right at the beginning. It is normal and healthy to feel upset when bad things happen. Find ways to get out the grief by journaling, talking, creating art, listening to music, and allowing yourself to feel whatever you feel.
  • Make a Plan. You need a practical and solid plan. The best way to create one is to write it down. What steps do you need to take over the next days and weeks? What reasonable and helpful goals can you set for yourself? What do you need to avoid?
  • Set Boundaries and Reduce your Schedule. Pain flare ups require rest. There is no way around this. Finding time to rest requires reducing your schedule and setting strict boundaries on what you will and will not do for a while. Cancel plans. Take a day off. Ask someone to take over a responsibility. Let the house get dirty. Do whatever it takes to get some extra rest. Say no, and don’t feel guilty. Take a pacing class to learn how to better balance between movement and rest.
  • Improve the Moment. Continually ask yourself, “What will make this moment better?” Ice? Heat? A bath? A meal? Massage? Rest? Walk? Hydrating? Stretching? Reaching out to a friend? Taking pain meds? As much as you are able, don’t sit in your misery when you can do something, no matter how small. 
  • Be Honest About What You Need. Asking for help is important. Instead of pretending you are fine or not telling anyone about your increase in pain, have an honest discussion with the people close to you. Let them know if you need help with tasks you typically take care of. Be honest about what you absolutely can’t do for awhile.
  • Shut Down Guilt and Regret. Those thoughts that the flare-up is your fault and that you could have avoided it if you had done x, y, or z? Shut. Them. Down. It’s not your fault. Your body is wonky. It does what it wants when it wants. While you do have a measure of control over your health, for many people, flare-ups are simply unavoidable.
  • Rework Your Expectations. Expect less out of yourself and from life for a while.Accept that things will be a little harder for the time being.
  • Talk Yourself Down. Tell yourself the truth about your situation. Avoid spiraling into untrue and unhelpful thoughts. Flare ups pass. You have done this before and you can do it again. You will not always feel this emotionally bent out of shape. Your body is strong and able to withstand high levels of pain. You can and will make it through each hard moment.
  • Distract Yourself. As much as you are able, take a break from the pain through distraction. Read a book. Watch a mindless TV show. Read articles online. Snuggle a puppy. Listen to a podcast. Take pictures with your phone. Work on a craft or some form of art.
  • Consider the Big Picture. Step back for a moment and see the big picture. What is God doing? How is he working? How has he shown up in the past? What is your hope? What good things is he providing right next to the hard things?
  • Do Your Best Not to Isolate. Some level of isolation may be inevitable in a bad pain flare, but do what you can to limit it. Text a friend. Engage on Facebook. Ask someone to come visit. Talk to someone on the phone. Go out if and when you can.
  • Pray. Pray a lot. Talk to God about what you are going through. Ask questions. Share your pain. Thank him for the good things he has given you. Confess sins. Ask forgiveness. (Not because your pain is a result of sin, just because this is a good thing to do in general.) Wrestle with God’s plan for your life. Find comfort in his presence.
  •  Practice Relaxation Strategies. Relaxing your body is important when you are in pain. Tense muscles can prolong a flare. Practice deep breathing. Listen to a guided visualization. Meditate. Get a massage. Take a bath. Look up progressive muscle relaxation and give it a try.
  • Remember Basic Self-Care. Have you eaten today? Have you had enough water today? Would you feel better if you changed into clean clothes? Do you need to brush your teeth? Take a shower? If you can’t shower or bathe, could you use a washcloth to get a little cleaner? Did you remember to take your meds? 
  • Engage Your Senses. Engaging your senses can be a form of relaxation and also a means of distracting from the pain. Smell some essential oils. Eat a piece of chocolate. Listen to music. Touch a cold and smooth stone or a fuzzy pillow. Sleep under a weighted blanket.
  • Use an Online Counseling Service. There are a variety of online counseling and support services that can be used either for free or a small price. Check out 7 Cups of Tea, Talkspace, or Betterhelp. Do a google search for “online counseling” and see what you find.
  • Practice Gratitude. Make a list of the good things God has given you. Be on the lookout for things that bring your joy. Purposefully add pleasurable things into your day. 
  • Do Something Nice for Someone Else. It can help to take the focus off of yourself and onto the people around you. Write someone a letter or card. Knit someone a scarf. Make your family member a cup of tea. Listen to a friend going through a hard time. 
  • Try Something New. Trying a new pain management technique can bring a measure of hope. Try that supplement, vitamin, essential oil, or gadget you have been considering. Make an appointment with a new specialist. Ask your doctor if there is a next step to take. Read a book on pain management to get ideas.

What about you? What helps you cope with flares?

(**Life in Slow Motion offers online courses for people with chronic pain. Check out What Really Helps People With Chronic Pain, an eight-week self-management course held several times per year.)

 

10 Comments

  1. That whole “make a plan” thing is the only way I can cope some days! Even if that plan is to take my meds, rest and see how I’m doing in a few hours, it’s something I CAN do to help make things better. Great tips!

    July 4, 2018
    Reply
    • lifeinslowmotion said:

      Thanks! Yes, making a plan is one of the most important ones for me too.

      July 5, 2018
      Reply
  2. Kirsten said:

    Those are great tips! During a flare I tend to feel so guilty for not being able to work and feel so frustrated. But on those days it’s SO important to focus on taking care of yourself. x

    July 5, 2018
    Reply
    • lifeinslowmotion said:

      So true!

      July 5, 2018
      Reply
  3. Timothy Boles said:

    The garden is my refuge when things get bad. Good distraction for the senses. Can also be very mindfull even when doing the most mundane tasks. I am blessed to have a modest flower garden. I am even more blessed to have recently experienced some healing, after 20 years of RSD/CRPS. Excellent ideas. I have use many of these startegies through the years. Thanks for helping.

    July 10, 2018
    Reply
    • lifeinslowmotion said:

      Thanks for stopping by, Timothy. Getting outside is such a great suggestion. I’m glad you have your garden.

      July 11, 2018
      Reply
  4. juliemuses said:

    I was just feeling “guilty” about cancelling plans tonight due to a flareup. This is a good reminder that it’s okay. Thank you.

    July 13, 2018
    Reply
  5. I’m flaring for the first time in months (long story short, had to stop my meds), and I’m having such a hard time dealing. Your post brought me back into perspective and gave me some good tips. Thank you so much.

    May 19, 2019
    Reply
  6. Linda said:

    Thank you for posting this. I am in a major flare with the possibility of one more autoimmune issue, so not much help on pain until they get a diagnosis. I have completely give up trying to fight this today. Your suggestions remind me there is an end and I need to do whatever I can to keep fighting. A gentle short walk with my husband and creating a plan after supper are my choices for starting back in the fight.

    August 30, 2019
    Reply
  7. What do you do when your adult son, who still lives at home says he can’t bear seeing you in pain – so he goes out for the whole day or days on end. I feel so hurt by this, I can’t “undo” my chronic pain condition and now I feel even more guilty for having it. My husband is really supportive but even he says it’s very hard to watch me in so much pain. This truly makes me just want to end it all. Then no-one would have to see me in pain, it wouldn’t cost my husband anything and they could all just get on with their lives. I know my husband and son love me, but I cause so much angst to them, it’s becoming just not worth it – I have this for life with no hope of things getting better – and I’m so tired, so very tired. Anyone got any ideas?

    October 4, 2020
    Reply

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