Watching someone you care for go through the trials of chronic pain certainly takes its toll. All you want is to lend a hand or take their pain away. But it can be hard to know what to do to help them or how to show support when you’re not the one going through it. So, here are five tips on supporting someone with chronic pain that can benefit you both.
Learn How Their Pain Affects Them
Chronic pain impacts approximately 20 percent of all adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are many different reasons behind chronic pain—from genetic conditions to injuries, the source of pain varies from person to person. For some, there is a diagnosis to attach to chronic pain. For others, the origin of their pain is unknown, which brings a whole other world of challenges when it comes to treating the symptoms.
This is why when it comes to supporting someone with chronic pain, it’s so important to learn how their pain influences them. What are their main symptoms? How does this affect their day-to-day life? Do they see a pain specialist? How do they manage the pain?
Their answers to these questions might surprise you. Chronic pain doesn’t just physically impact people. Pain can also have a significant impact on one’s mental health. In fact, depression and anxiety are common co-occurring disorders for people who live with chronic pain.
Not only is it taxing to experience the symptoms of pain on a seemingly endless loop, but chronic pain can also lead to missed social events, isolation, difficulties working, etc. All of these things and more can contribute to developing symptoms of a mental health disorder.
In learning how to support a loved one with chronic pain, taking the time to listen, hear, and work to understand all the ways that their pain affects them specifically can actually help you to feel closer to them.
When it comes to chronic pain, ups and downs are expected. Knowing exactly how or exactly when the pain might hit, though, is a different story. This can put a lot of strain on relationships for friends and family members of people with chronic pain.
Imagine that you’ve made plans with your friend or family member who lives with chronic pain on three separate occasions. Each time, they send the same text to cancel those plans: I’m sorry, I’m not feeling up to it today. Can we reschedule?
You might start to think, “Do they not want to spend time with me? Why do they keep blowing me off?” This might lead to frustration or even resentment and put some tension on your friendship.
Now, imagine the flip side of this: You live with chronic pain or chronic illness and you’ve been trying to make plans with your friend or family member. You are so careful not to overdo it, not to use up all of your energy, right before the day of the plans but you still wake up with those aches, the fatigue, and the nausea that comes with severe pain. You muster your energy to send a text to cancel and start to worry, “I hope they’ll understand. I hope they’ll give me another chance.”
The truth of the matter is that nobody wants pain to control what they can do. This is why one of the best ways to support someone with chronic pain is by allowing flexibility. When plans need to change or be postponed, it’s okay to feel disappointed, but make sure to communicate with your loved one that you understand and that you’re there to support them, even if you can’t physically get together.
This next piece of advice comes in two parts. First is to offer assistance. As said earlier, going through chronic pain can feel really isolating. It also comes with daily logistical challenges. Being a supportive ally to someone with chronic pain also means offering support where you can.
This might look like dropping off some food on a bad pain day when you know cutting veggies is out of the question for your loved one. You might also guide your loved one toward certain resources like chronic pain support groups. Offering support might also be as simple as listening to them vent on a tough day—the same as they’d do for you.
Just knowing that you’re there can feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of their sore shoulders. The burden of pain doesn’t always have to be carried alone.
…But Don’t Insist
That said, the second aspect of this advice is to know when it’s time to step back. Offering to help can be exactly what your loved one needs on a bad pain day. However, for someone who has a lot of experience with chronic pain, they might not always feel as though they need help.
Learning to navigate day-to-day life with chronic pain is a unique undertaking. It’s unfortunate that people with chronic pain often have to learn how to move around or through the pain, but when you experience pain 24/7, you start to adapt to a certain extent.
Rather than insisting on helping in your own way, acknowledge and appreciate the different approaches your loved ones might take to cope with their pain. Perhaps they want a distraction by going out to lunch even though they know they’ll be unable to get out of bed for hours after. Perhaps they’re practicing how to independently open doors and squeeze inside with their new mobility device.
Remember that chronic pain is complex. It’s not something that can usually be treated easily, and it’s not something that goes away. Take the time to listen to your loved ones and what they need in a particular moment—and don’t forget to voice when you feel that you need some help too.
Help Raise Awareness For Chronic Pain
Lastly, one of the best ways of supporting someone with chronic pain is to raise awareness for what they’re going through. Not many people can wrap their heads around the fact that chronic pain is a constant battle, even if it’s not always visible. But talking openly about pain, any diagnoses attached, and the frustration of navigating the medical world can help to demystify the conversation around pain.
As a result, more people might be able to understand the true impact of chronic pain. Responding with kindness and patience helps tremendously when it comes to getting people with chronic pain what they need to live fuller, happier lives.
The Takeaway on Supporting Someone With Chronic Pain
Chronic pain support should always be evolving based on what your loved one needs at a certain time. Be sure to talk with them, get to know their pain, and utilize that learned knowledge to help them in the future. Most importantly, know that, while you can’t always take away the physical sensation of pain, just being there for your loved one can make a huge difference in how they’re able to cope with the complexities of pain.
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