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How to Pace Yourself When Living With Chronic Pain

How to Pace Yourself When Living With Chronic Pain

The information provided in my blog posts is strictly from my own experiences and is not intended to replace medical or professional advice. Do not disregard any medical advice you have received after reading any of my posts. For more please read my disclosure page.

There are so many ways to go about managing chronic pain, and pacing is one of them. You may no longer do certain activities to avoid having a flare-up. Or maybe you push yourself to do the things you really enjoy, with the same outcome – PAIN! This is why learning how to pace yourself is an important part of managing pain.

But, you’re probably wondering what do you mean by ‘pacing yourself’, how do you do it and does it actually work? This post will tell you what you need to know.

WHAT IS PACING?

Pacing is a technique used to break things down into manageable chunks to allow for rest in between.

When you live with chronic pain or any chronic illness, the thought of doing certain things is exhausting!

However, if you break that ‘thing’ into bite-sized pieces and rest in between, it’s less daunting and easier to finish (even if it takes a little longer).

So many of us living with chronic pain use avoidance to cope with pain because we don’t want to poke the chronic pain bear. Or we base how we feel on what we can do. But, as a result, we miss out on doing the things that bring us happiness or things that still make us feel capable.

Pacing is a more structured approach to coping with pain. Rather than reacting to pain, you can create a strategy to help conserve your energy whilst still getting things done.

HOW DOES PACING HELP WITH PAIN?

Pacing is a really effective way to cope with pain as:

  • It helps you to stay active
  • Helps you to do things you enjoy 
  • Can avoid making pain worse
  • It will make you feel more capable and less reliant on others

Using pain to determine your activity level sounds like the most sensible thing to do, right? But with that mindset, how much will you really be able to get done?

Avoiding things will eventually wear thin and take its toll, I learnt that pretty quickly after years of putting things off because of my pain. It led to me feeling guilty, isolated, and sometimes depressed.

For instance, I really wanted to shed some weight to improve my confidence and general health. But the idea of working out terrified me, particularly when I was already in pain, so I avoided it altogether. Meaning, I put on even more weight and felt even more unhealthy and unhappy.

This is just one example, but it shows how avoidance can be damaging over time and why pacing is important. It will help you change your mindset and understand how much you can still do despite the pain.

I used to think that my pain was a hindrance. But it all boils down to shifting the way we think about our limits and capabilities.

We may need to limit how much we do and take longer to do things, but we are still capable. This mindset is the key to successfully pacing, so why not use it to your advantage?

HOW TO PACE YOURSELF WITH CHRONIC PAIN?

1 – DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO PACE?

Start off by figuring out what parts your life need pacing most? What activities will have the most positive impact? It could be household chores, exercise or pacing to do something you really enjoy.

2- SET S.M.A.R.T. GOALS

person writing on paper on white desk

Specific: Be specific with what you want to achieve, for example, to do laundry every Saturday.
Measurable: Choose something that you can track and see how much progress you’re making.
Achievable: Avoid choosing anything too ambitious.
Realistic: Be realistic with what you can do, don’t push your body too far.
Timely: Decide how long you would like to work towards your goal before accomplishing it.

3- WORK OUT HOW MUCH YOU CAN DO

Now that you’ve set some goals, you can figure out how much you can do without making your pain worse.

Check out this article by painHealth for some amazing ways to set your baseline and goal setting. I found it really useful when starting my pacing journey.

Start off with a few activities and do them for a few days. Write the activity, how long you did it for and how you felt afterwards. This will help you decide how much you can tolerate and for how long.

For example:

  • Activity: Vacuuming three times a week
  • How long did you vacuum for?:1 hour 3 times a week
  • How long did it take for your pain to flare up?: 25 – 30 minutes
  • How did you feel afterwards? – Back pain, pelvic pain and fatigue

4-MAKE A PLAN

pile of notebooks beside pot of pencils and glasses

Now that you’ve calculated your activities, how much you can do and how long you take to do it, you’re ready to make a plan.

For example, as mentioned in the example above, the activity was vacuuming. When analysing everything, 3 times a week was not manageable and after 25 minutes the pain flared up.

So perhaps twice a week would be more realistic and taking a break every 15 minutes would be beneficial in preventing a flare-up.

Quick tipBREAK THINGS INTO SMALLER CHUNKS

Breaking things down into smaller tasks will allow you to set achievable goals regardless of what they are.

In trying to work out how much your body can take, you would have worked out how much you can withstand.

Use those findings as a guideline for how long you can tolerate doing a task before needing a break.

Doing things in smaller chunks and taking regular breaks is also a good way to stop and check-in with your body to avoid pushing yourself too far.

Although it may mean completing a task takes longer, it will only preserve your energy and thus help you manage your pain in the long run.

5- BE CONSISTENT

Pacing can really help you manage your pain, prevent flare-ups, preserve energy and also look after your mental health. It’s easy to only want to do things on ‘good’ days, but staying consistent is the only way you’ll reap the benefits.

Now I’m not saying to push yourself too far!

If you’re having a really a terrible flare-up and have been told to rest, be sure to do so! Once you’re able to, you can get back to your pacing routine.

6- TRACK YOUR PROGRESS

woman on laptop beside notebook and pen

Once you’ve gotten the hang of pacing yourself, be sure to track your progress. Monitoring your progress will help you see what you can now do with ease, which can help you take the next steps to progress.

For example, if you’ve been using pacing to walk your dog for 10 minutes every day and those 10 minutes now feel like breeze, perhaps you can now walk for 20 minutes instead.

Similarly, if you’ve been using pacing for an activity and it doesn’t feel like it’s working out, tracking your progress will allow you to revisit it and alter the way you approach it.

Learning to pace yourself will show you-you can do way more than you thought you were capable of, and you’ll feel better for it in the long run.

PACE YOURSELF WITH THESE BONUS TIPS

person reading book holding white mug

IT’S OKAY TO SAY NO

Having chronic pain often means that we have to cancel plans or miss out on doing things we really enjoy. It can be tempting to push yourself into doing things to avoid letting others down or for FOMO, but you have to be mindful of your own limits.

Get to know your limits and pain triggers and pay close attention to them. Learning to say no will really help you pace yourself.

DON’T OVERDO IT!

flowers, phone and candle on wooden bedside table

It can be really hard adjusting to taking longer to do things, but it is key when you deal with chronic pain.

It’s good to have some daily goals whether that’s doing chores or getting work done from home. Having daily goals will give you a sense of accomplishment and help you feel more in control of your pain.

Try your best not to cram too much into your day!

Keep your to-do lists short and sweet. Even if that means you have one pacing activity per week, refer to your plan and what you can realistically manage.

BE PATIENT

Many people find that pacing can be really hard to stick to, and it may take a few tries. It can feel like you’re wasting time because it’s taking a little longer to do things, but it’s normal to feel that way. Just remember it’s for your health and well-being.

It may be hard planning things in advance and you may even go back to avoiding things for a while- and that’s fine. With any new habit, it takes time to get used to. Just dust yourself off and try again.

You’ve got this!

Have you tried to pace yourself to manage your chronic pain?

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