By Allen Hord, MD
Battling chronic pain is an obvious challenge for those who suffer from it. But it also impacts those around them — especially their concerned loved ones. Knowing how to provide support can be complex to navigate, but may provide a crucial coping mechanism.
At Alliance Spine & Pain Centers, we are dedicated to resolving problems for the whole patient, which includes their loved ones. Here are some ways you can help your loved one.
“You can’t completely understand your partner’s pain, but you can listen and learn,” recommends MigraineAgain. “Just knowing what they’re going through can make it easier for both of you to handle the ups and downs.” Staying patient, being adaptive, and arming yourself with information are all things you can do to assist everyone caught in the web that chronic pain can spin.
THE POWER OF POSITIVE PHYSICAL TOUCH
Positive physical touch is good for both your mood and your spirit, according to one study in the Western Journal of Communication. The Journals of Gerontology also indicates that experiencing close physical contact, such as hugging, receiving a pat on the back, or getting a gentle neck massage, can yield higher oxytocin levels.
Why is that important? Oxytocin has the ability to undo the potential negative effects of the stress hormone cortisol. When imbalanced by stress, higher levels of cortisol can add to widespread inflammation, and increased pain. This cycle may put the body in a state of continual fight or flight that makes it even harder to find relief.
So when you’re at a loss for what else to do, offer some positive touch.
WHAT (NOT) TO SAY
Words have the power to both help and harm, especially when the listener may already be struggling with stress, depression, physical discomfort, or changes in lifestyle their chronic pain may cause. Being mindful of your words can make a difference.
- Be cautious of “toxic positivity” that’s intended to help but may come across as dismissive. “It could be worse,” is one example of this.
- Put the emphasis on validation
- “Saying ‘I understand that *insert chronic illness* can be debilitating. I can’t imagine what it’s like, but I am here to support you in your journey” is what CreakyJoints recommends. Commending them on what they are doing may also prove helpful.
- Recommending solutions is nice of you, but could be interpreted as an insult. Instead of saying “Have you tried (fill in the blank recommendation),” Duke University’s The Chronicle suggests leave it at something like, “Explore this information if you want to.”
KEEP UP THE ENGAGEMENT
Though someone suffering chronic pain may not always feel “normal,” they still want to be. Remain respectfully aware of their limitations, but invite them to outings and activities. If they can’t attend (or have to cancel at the last minute), remember not to take it personally. Stay engaged in their lives and keep them engaged in yours, too.
Find alternatives to the tasks they can’t easily perform. “Perhaps they can no longer do yardwork, but they may still be able to help with cooking, setting the table, washing the dishes, caring for children, handling family finances, making phone calls or shopping by phone,” The New York Times recommends. “Feeling useful can bolster a patient’s self-esteem and mood.”
Taking care of yourself is as important as tending to your loved one. And we’re here to help. If you need guidance for a loved one’s pain management plan, we encourage you to schedule an appointment by calling 770-929-9033 or reaching out to us online.