How to Cope With Pain Beyond the Pandemic
When life returns to its usual pace, but you’re still living with chronic pain.
Posted July 5, 2021 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- Along with its challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic offered a rare opportunity to rest and restore that was helpful to chronic pain patients.
- As the world reopens, chronic pain sufferers will want to be mindful about how they re-engage with in-person obligations.
- Easing back in, setting clear boundaries, and prioritizing self-care are some of the strategies that can help as people begin socializing again.
Pandemic shutdowns and social distancing restrictions have meant staying home as much as possible. For many, this was a major challenge and financial burden. For those living with chronic pain, it may have felt like a relief. Despite the isolation, fear of illness, future uncertainty, and potential financial strain, the pressure to socialize was lifted overnight. The sense of guilt to go out and be “on” was suddenly gone.
The initial months of the pandemic led many with and without chronic pain to feel lowered expectations for socializing and less pressure to go out in general. Some were fortunate enough to work from home, which allowed more work-life balance and pacing activities on their own schedule.
A reopening world
As local and state governments are easing restrictions, the pressure is back on. Once again, those who struggle with chronic pain are trying to find a way forward without overdoing it.
Now, there are many more people dealing with persisting pain than there were prior to the pandemic. This is due, in part, to the COVID-19 illness resulting in post-viral syndrome in some. However, for those who were not infected, chronic pain may have developed due to shifting risk factors, including spikes in inactivity, sleep disturbance, anxiety, and depression. For those with preexisting pain, the condition may have worsened for the aforementioned reasons or the reduced access to high-quality health care and treatments that were placed on hold.
While some uncertainties remain regarding the future of this virus and how it impacts our society, one thing is certain: We need to find balance in moving forward.
7 strategies for coping with this transition:
Those who have been dealing with chronic pain for years, as well as those with new pain conditions, may want to consider developing a plan for how to ease into this open world. The following suggestions may help:
- Introspection: Take time to connect with yourself and reflect on your needs; this will assist with making mindful choices that fit with your values and take into consideration your current tolerance for activities.
- Self-care: Regular restorative movement and exercise go a long way in managing chronic pain, easing new aches, and alleviating muscle tension caused by stress; yoga, stretching, and even healthy eating can provide much-needed relief.
- Virtual support: While there may be a push to socialize in person, you may prefer to connect virtually on occasion or even seek online communities that don’t require physical meetings.
- Telehealth: Thankfully, doctors' offices are opening back up for routine care; however, many health care providers are now equipped to continue offering virtual visits. Don’t hesitate to ask for this option!
- Gradual activities: As with any new or it’s-been-a-while activities, start low and go slow; that means you will want to start with brief outings, time-limited physical requirements, and pacing activities with regular breaks.
- Boundaries: Letting your social circle know of your plans in advance can help establish your boundaries and relieves the sense of pressure to stay longer than intended.
- Acceptance: A great lesson in practicing acceptance was learned for all of us during the pandemic, but this is already familiar to those living with persisting pain, and it continues to apply. Be patient with yourself, be kind and compassionate with yourself and others, and remember every moment is an opportunity to take action in the direction you feel is best for you!
Perhaps in every challenging situation, a silver lining can be seen. There was a period of downtime that allowed some to rest, recover, and restore. It may also have led to increased feelings of depression or loneliness. Now, we are at a crossroads and can choose how to proceed. The path forward may look different than before, given lessons learned during the last year and a half. It is a good time to examine the positives, the challenges, and consider taking your next steps more mindfully.
Murphy, J., & Rafie, S. (2021). Chronic Pain and Opioid Management: Strategies for Integrated Treatment. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Clauw, D. J., Häuser, W., Cohen, S. P., & Fitzcharles, M. A. (2020). Considering the potential for an increase in chronic pain after the COVID-19 pandemic. Pain, 161(8), 1694.
Karos, K., McParland, J. L., Bunzli, S., Devan, H., Hirsh, A., Kapos, F. P., ... & Ashton-James, C. E. (2020). The social threats of COVID-19 for people with chronic pain. Pain, 161(10), 2229.
Margolies, S. O., Patidar, S. M., Chidgey, B. A., Goetzinger, A., Sanford, J. B., & Short, N. A. (2021). Growth in crisis: A mixed methods study of lessons from our patients with chronic pain during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 19, 12-16.