While there are plenty of ways to actively improve or maintain your physical health, in some situations, chronic pain is inevitable. Older adults are especially likely to struggle with chronic pain due to their increased risk of arthritis, neuropathy, acute injuries, and other health issues. Unfortunately, chronic geriatric pain can have a dramatic effect on your quality of life.
Seniors with chronic pain are more likely to face challenges like depression, anxiety, and social isolation. These mental health issues can make it harder to manage your pain, too, which can lead to a decline in your overall physical health. Because the link between your mental health and your chronic pain is so significant, taking control of your emotional well-being is the key to feeling happy and energized despite your pain. When you take steps to protect your mental health, you can find a great deal of joy, meaning, and purpose in your life regardless of your physical health.
The Connection Between Chronic Pain and Mental Health
Chronic geriatric pain is physically uncomfortable, but it can also take an emotional toll. One of the most common experiences for seniors with chronic pain is anxiety. When your body is in pain, it’s natural to worry that your condition will worsen over time. You might experience intense fear or panic about losing your independence, sustaining an injury, or no longer being able to engage in your hobbies. Our minds have a habit of suggesting the worst case scenario, so anxiety about the future is often a struggle for people with chronic health issues.
Sometimes, older adults feel a sense of shame or guilt about their chronic pain. Asking for support is nothing to be ashamed of. However, if you’re used to being the person giving help rather than receiving it, you may feel uncomfortable requesting assistance.
Another common emotional struggle caused by chronic geriatric pain is social isolation. If you have a hard time leaving home because of your pain, you may not see your friends, family, and community frequently enough. We all need social interaction to feel well, but it can be difficult to find opportunities to socialize when your chronic geriatric pain gets in the way.
How to Protect Your Mental Health When Dealing With Chronic Geriatric Pain
Chronic geriatric pain can impact your mental health in a number of ways, but you don’t have to let it control your life. You have the power to protect your mental health no matter your physical condition.
Here are five mental and emotional health tips for those who are facing chronic geriatric pain:
1. Keep your stress under control.
Stress is both a physical and emotional experience, but it often starts with external triggers. You can greatly reduce your anxiety by keeping the amount of stress in your life under control. Managing a chronic health problem is not easy, and you may sometimes feel completely overwhelmed by your responsibilities. Finding healthy and effective ways to release this stress when it builds up is critical.
Exercise is a popular source of stress relief, and it has plenty of other health benefits. If you are able to exercise despite your chronic pain, adding a workout into your daily routine can be so valuable for your emotional health. Other people find artistic hobbies to be the best stress relievers. For example, you might reduce your stress by drawing, painting, or playing music, all of which provide a creative outlet for you to express yourself.
2. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
Asking for help can be challenging, but you need to reach out to your support network when times are tough. Consider what you would say to a loved one who approached you for assistance. You would probably be honored to help, and your loved ones feel the same about you. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and don’t try to hide your pain from the people you’re closest to. Your friends or family can offer a listening ear, or they could help with practical matters, like arranging transportation or cooking meals.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment without judging yourself for how you feel. Many people with chronic illnesses try to distract themselves from their pain, but sometimes, sitting with your pain is the key to protecting your mental health. When you have a strong emotional reaction to your pain, the physical sensations can feel even worse. By learning to observe your body without judgment, your perception of your pain may decrease.
Mindfulness is not something you can master overnight, but you can start practicing it immediately. Try beginning with a short mindfulness meditation by sitting in a comfortable place, setting a timer for five minutes, and focusing on your breath. Notice how your body feels, and acknowledge the thoughts that enter your mind. Whenever your attention wanders away from your breath, gently redirect it back. The more you practice, the easier you’ll find it to be aware of your emotions and physical sensations.
4. Find moments of gratitude.
Finding moments to be grateful when you’re facing chronic geriatric pain may seem difficult, but it can have a major impact on your mental health. Our minds tend to focus on the negatives in life because these are the issues that require our attention to fix. Noticing all of the positives can help you change your perspective and feel more at peace, though.
Some people like to keep a gratitude journal, which involves writing down a few things that you’re grateful for every day. If you’re not interested in journaling, you can practice gratitude simply by acknowledging the little moments throughout your day that you appreciate. You might notice the sound of the birds chirping in the morning, or you may take a moment to be grateful for the meal you ate. It may feel silly to linger on these small things, but it can have long-term benefits for your emotional health.
5. Talk to a therapist.
Senior counseling is one of the most effective ways to reduce the emotional impact of chronic geriatric pain. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your loved ones about your concerns, you may find it easier to talk to a counselor. Therapy is a private, safe environment for you to process your emotions about your chronic pain, and your therapist will not judge or condemn anything you say.
One of the main goals of counseling for chronic geriatric pain is finding coping skills for your situation. Therapy might not reduce your physical pain, but you can learn how to reduce your negative thoughts and beliefs. You can also use therapy as an opportunity to discover what is the most meaningful to you in your life, which can help you focus on the aspects of your life that provide you with the most value.
Chronic pain can be a devastating experience, but there is always hope. Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy services for seniors with chronic health problems. You can contact us today to learn more about our practice.