If you’re a chronic pain sufferer you’ve heard it from your friends, your family, your doctor, and even the stranger at the grocery store… “listen to your body”. Sounds like a great piece of advice, right? But what does it really mean? Your body is probably not telling you to exercise every day. It’s most likely telling you to stay on the couch and finish that series on Netflix instead. So how do we decipher between what we think our bodies are telling us and what is actually happening? Here are 3 simple ways to better understand the signals our bodies are giving us and how to take action.
1. Slow down for a few minutes. This one is the most simple... yet the toughest. If you’re like many of us, you put your game face on and power through your day, pushing through your pain. There really isn’t time to stop. But what if you started making it a habit to check in with yourself at certain points throughout the day to assess your pain levels. Maybe it’s while sitting at traffic lights in your car. Maybe it’s every morning while you’re brushing your teeth. Just pick a few daily activities that you can ritually use as a time to take a deep breath and truly think about how much pain you’re in. You don’t necessarily need to do anything about it at first, but just practice paying attention. And as time goes on, this assessment can inform your next activity. For example, if your back is noticeably more uncomfortable in the car than the previous day, that next errand can wait. Or, you may need to adjust your seat (just do this after you get to your destination, not at the traffic light, of course).
2. Start keeping track of how you feel. You’ve probably been asked to keep a food and activity journal before, and we know it can feel constraining. It’s certainly inconvenient. But being able to see patterns in how nutrition and activity levels affect your pain is incredibly freeing. So, keep it simple. Start noting in your phone or tablet what you have for breakfast for a few days in a row and how you feel two to three hours later. In the evening, jot down how you feel and whether or not you had any physical activity that day—ie: went for a walk at lunch or worked at my desk through my break. If you can start with recording just those two events (breakfast and activity) for a few days in a row, you can see if you notice any immediate patterns.
Feel free to mix it up. If you really don’t think that morning donut makes a difference in your pain levels, eat that donut. Record how you feel. And then the next day choose an anti-inflammatory breakfast option like a spinach and red pepper omelet or another option from the list in this post to see if it makes a difference. Changes in diet and movement may take weeks, or even months, to notice any improvement in your pain, but you may notice subtle differences in range of motion, stiffness, and overall disposition that suspiciously correlate with what you ate or how much you moved. The longer amount of time and more detailed records you keep of what you eat, do and how you feel, the more patterns you’ll start to see with your body. This will make that donut harder to justify when you can visually see that it causes you more pain in the long run.
3. Pause and ask yourself “why”. When our stomachs “tell” us they need that package of cupcakes in the bakery isle, the simplest thing to do is grab it and go. But you’re a savvy chronic pain sufferer. You’ve read a few nutrition blogs and know that “cupcakes” never made the anti-inflammatory list. So now what? We rarely stop to ask ourselves why we’re craving something. If you’re craving cupcakes, pause and ask yourself why. Are you really hungry? Are you tired? Start thinking about all the tasty, anti-inflammatory, filling food options available to you in that grocery store… like yogurt with cherries, a pre-made tuna wrap in the deli, or quinoa tortilla chips and guacamole. Or if you’re really wanting to just lay on the couch instead of going for a walk, remind yourself that you can do a few stretches and leg raises while you watch your favorite show. When you pause to ask yourself why you’re craving something or not feeling like doing a particular activity, it allows you to give yourself a few rational, more healthy, yet equally satisfying alternatives.
In summary, slow down for a few minutes each day to check in with your pain levels. Keep track of a meal, physical activity, and how you feel for a few days. And when confronted with an unhealthy food craving or strong desire to be sedimentary, pause to ask yourself why you’re wanting that and what you could give your body as a more pain-relieving alternative for the long run.
And remember, listening to your body is just part of the equation when it comes to pain relief. Using Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy, Oska Pulse is clinically proven to reduce inflammation, increase circulation, improve mobility and relieve pain. You can strap it on or near your point of pain while you're working, exercising, or doing many of the activities that you love. Click here to try it out!