#123 Pace yourself

Following yesterdays topic & post #64 Keep moving, this is an article written by Dr. Michel Gargan for CT Pain Foundation, and I find it extremely helpful.

A common pattern that I see in my pain patients is a burst of activity on a good day followed by several days of increased pain and immobility. As much as I preach consistently moderate activity, my patients habitually try to get everything done when they feel good. But when they do this, they get nothing at all done in the following two or three days. A prudent and effective pattern to follow is to do the approximately the same amount of physical activity each day. On “bad” pain days, you will have to push yourself, while on “good” days you will have to hold yourself back. If you do this, you will see that you get the same amount done as when you do a burst on Monday and nothing on Tuesday and Wednesday. If you do a little each day, you will get the same amount done without misery on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The following are some suggested techniques you can use to maximize your functioning:

  • Keep an activity log for a two-week period. Write down everything you do including quantity (how many dishes you washed) and how long you spent at it. You will probably be surprised at how much you do accomplish even though it feels to you as if you are doing little or nothing. Keeping this type of log will make you more aware of your patterns as well as help you set reasonable expectations. Challenge the artificial deadlines you set for yourself. What does it matter if the whole task is completed in one hour or one day, or in three hours or three days? How perfect does the work have to be? Learn to say, “That’s good enough.” 

  • Breathe while you move. Be aware of using your breath to support physical exertion instead of holding your breath against pain. Also be aware of the amount of energy you are using to accomplish a task as well as the quality of your movement. Replace short, quick, intense movements with longer, slower, lighter movements. Elongate the muscles when dusting, scouring, or reaching, and slow down to allow a full range of motion.

  • Take frequent breaks. Every twenty minutes or so, change positions, change activity, or just rest. It may take you longer to do what you used to do in the blink of an eye. So what? It is important to learn to pace yourself.

  • Schedule a rest period in the middle of the morning and the middle of the afternoon. A half-hour is usually effective, but some people take an hour or longer. If you have to nap, go ahead. But many people find that just relaxing, listening to music, taking a bath, daydreaming, or meditating is effective in extending their ability to function throughout the day. Go back to your activity log and find the natural breaks where you can insert rest periods. If you think there is no time to rest, you are trying to accomplish too much.

  • Make conscious transitions between tasks. For example, if you are cooking dinner, take a few seconds to breathe and stretch between peeling the potatoes and molding the meat loaf. This allows you to release muscle tension and adjust your posture as well as tune into your physical effort in order to maintain a steady, easy pace.

  • Put some type of regular physical exercise into your life. Don’t deprive your whole body of exercise and fitness because part of you is in pain. Yoga is excellent for persons with pain because it increases flexibility and strength while focusing on breathing to support movement. Most yoga instructors will modify the poses to fit your needs. Walking and swimming are also good activities to keep the whole body healthy.

  • Explore new recreational activities. If you used to play soccer or go skydiving for fun, you have to find new pursuits. Music, painting, gardening, creative writing, and handicrafts do not offer the same physical thrills, but they are relaxing and rewarding. Make time for fun even if you have not completed all the chores that need to be done.

If you have a chronic pain condition, you have to accept that much of your life has changed permanently. This does not mean your life is over. It just means that you can’t do things the way you used to before the pain set in. If you set realistic goals, learn to pace yourself, maintain a moderate level of daily activity, and engage in pleasurable pursuits, you will be able to have a full life.

Michele Gargan, Psyd

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