Stress, tension and poor sleep are common in people with chronic pain. Whilst we can’t often directly control the amount of stress in our lives, we can do things to reduce the negative effects it has on our health. Given that chronic pain is a stress-sensitive condition, stress management strategies like relaxation can be helpful for relieving symptoms. They can also help to improve pain, sleep, digestive symptoms and mood. In addition, researchers have found that relaxation can also lead to better quality of life for people living with chronic pain.
Relaxation techniques are empowering, because they offer a way of gaining some control over the physical effects of stress and pain. As we have mentioned, stress causes physical changes that can create and/or worsen your existing pain. Stress also increases your sensitivity to pain, reduces your tolerance, and makes the pain feel more intense. When people end up in a constant state of stress, the vicious cycle of chronic pain can go into overdrive. Relaxation can help to reverse this process and return body systems to normal functioning.
In addition to pain relief, people can expect to feel less anxious, less tense and a general sense of calm and control with relaxation. As such, relaxation should ideally be part of your everyday life. Instead of pushing it to the bottom of your ‘to-do’ list, we suggest you prioritise this activity. Of course, different types of relaxation work better for different people. Finding what works for you will involve a process of trying out different techniques and observing their effects. In the skills section below, we cover a range of strategies to get you started.