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What is distraction for chronic pain and how can you make it a part of your pain management toolbox

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I’ve written a few posts on distraction for chronic pain, and why it’s a big part of pain management. In this post I want to delve a little bit deeper in to exactly what distraction is and how you can make it a part of your pain management toolbox and use everyday to help you cope better with your chronic pain.

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What is distraction?

Being distracted from your pain is about engaging in an activity or thoughts to take your attention away from your pain. The distraction process is about concentrating on something so that your brain doesn’t have chance to think about or focus on your pain. In simple terms, it’s about keeping your mind busy. It does not mean the pain will go away, but your attention is focused on something else.

There are generally two types of distraction:

Active distraction is where you are actively involved in a physical or mind activity; your are engaged in learning something; you have more energy and focus to do something active.

Passive distraction includes things like watching TV or listening to music; you don’t have much energy to do anything, and it doesn’t take much effort to do the activity.

Distraction is an ideal technique to use if you find yourself worrying about your pain, or feeling anxious about anything. Try to turn your attention away from thoughts about pain and how you’re feeling and keep your mind busy.


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How can distraction help you?

Distraction for chronic pain can help give you a sense of control. By choosing to do something to help you cope with your pain makes you feel in control.

Doing something is better than nothing. Sitting there and thinking, dwelling and worrying about things is no good for you or anyone else. It doesn’t achieve anything, and can actually make your pain worse.

Doing more can make you:

  • Feel more energised
  • Be more productive
  • Gives you a sense of achievement
  • Feel less defeated by your pain

I often think of it in terms of do nothing and be in pain and miserable, or be in pain doing something you enjoy or want to do and feel much better about things.


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How to make distraction a part of your pain management toolbox?

A huge part of pain management is distraction. It is important to keep busy to try and not let chronic pain take over. And keeping your mind busy means that you are not focusing on your pain and overthinking and worrying about things and potentially making your pain worse through the pain-stress cycle.

Whether you choose to do something active or passive, not only depends on your energy levels, but on your mood too. If you are feeling low or suffer from depression (which is often a symptom of having chronic pain) you won’t be up to doing much. A passive form of distraction may be very useful for you.

On some days the pain can be so bad, that nothing can distract you. The important thing to do here is to accept it and just do what you need to do. This can be having a sleep, having a good cry, or simply doing nothing.


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Sometimes you need to listen to your body and rest, but doing something while resting helps make sure that you don’t fall asleep more than you should – as this can impact on your sleep at night time. It can also make you feel like you are making the most of this rest time too, rather than feeling defeated by your pain.

Distraction works differently for everyone. You will be able to develop your own distraction plan and use certain distraction techniques in certain situations.

Some distraction ideas

The below are just a few distraction suggestions for you to try and embed in to your own pain management plan. Distraction works differently for everyone, so make sure you do something of interest and what is likely to motivate you and keep you engaged.

Reading

Books are a great distraction. Any type of reading, whether it is a paperback, hardback, a Kindle, or even some online document or blog posts, is a fantastic distraction to help cope with and manage chronic pain. 

It takes you away from reality and helps you switch off from things. And if you love non-fiction and self-development books like I do, then you can learn something at the same time, which is a huge boost for your mental health and self-esteem too.


Distraction for chronic pain is a huge part of my pain management toolbox- and reading is a simple, every day task that I can do. Read more of my reading posts:

How my kindle helps helps me manage my chronic pain

Why my Kindle is good for my chronic pain

10 non-fiction books I recommend



Watching films and TV

This is probably the simplest form of distraction, and the most easily accessible. 

There’s so much choice these days too – including live TV, your own recorded programmes, DVDs, and drama series and films on Netflix or Amazon Prime.



Listen to music

You can do this while you’re busy doing something else, or simply rest and enjoy some background music.



Spend time with friends and family

You may often not like feel like wanting company or having to put on a brave face to spend time with other people, but sometimes when you do, you automatically feel much better in yourself. Talking to others can easily help distract you. And if you spend time with those who know you and understand your pain (as much as they can do), then you can be yourself, and that brave face doesn’t have to be false.

Crafting

Crafting is a very popular distraction for chronic pain technique. My very good friend at maybe.kb.craft, who suffers from TMJ, has this to say:

It’s hard to ‘switch off’ pain thoughts, especially when the actual pain is 1 inch away from your brain! Having to concentrate and think purposefully pushes the apprehension of pain to the back of my mind, and allows creativity to the forefront.  

In a spell of bad depression, CBT taught me ‘quick wins’ – 30 minute activities to bridge periods of hopelessness. I use them to get a small bit of a bigger project done and peace from my pain.  

I always have everything setup ready to go – not having to setup the activity everytime prevents it becoming a chore. Being able to spontaneously create, means I have the option to distract myself immediately from sudden pain.

All the 30 minute distractions add up to a wonderful, completed project at the end. It’s especially worthwhile when that project is a gift and puts a smile on someone’s face!”


Some of the wonderful crafting made by maybe.kb.craft

Journalling

A lot of people find journalling extremely helpful. It is really good for improving your wellbeing. You don’t have to be good at writing. And your journal does not have to be perfect. 

Journalling is the habit and practice of writing down your thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to help with self-analysis and reflect on each day. It can be done in the morning, in the evening, or both, depending on what you include in your journal.

There are lots of benefits, but some include:

  • Decreasing anxiety
  • Improving your mental health
  • Improving communication
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Promoting mental clarify
  • Improving your happiness
  • Increasing creativity
  • Improving your mindset
  • Helping you with acceptance

Walking

Sometimes you might not have the energy or feel up to it, but gentle movement such as walking can be really beneficial for pain management. And you may even feel more energised after some fresh air and a little exercise.

You could do a mindful walk where you focus on your environment, your surroundings, and the sounds you hear, or simply go for a walk with your headphones and listen to some music or a podcast.

Walking is the best medicine quote by Hippocrates

Puzzles and games

There’s all sorts of puzzles available – crosswords, sudoku, word search, kriss kross – as well as a whole host of games – board games, apps, computer games. There’s even brain training activities you can do.

Blogging

Staring your own bog would give you a big project to work on. Something to really get your teeth in to and keep your mind busy.

There’s a lot involved in blogging – much more than people realise. But see it as a challenge and set yourself mini-goals to learn more about it, set up your website, and then a come up with a 6 or 12 month content plan. 

I started my blog to mainly help others cope better with their chronic pain. I wanted to encourage others to carry on doing the things the joy, and not let their pain dictate their lives.

I also thought it would be a useful way of helping me cope better with my own chronic pain. Opening up and being honest in my blog is quite scary, but I’ve had so much good feedback and comments from my readers to say that I am helping and inspiring them; it makes it all worth it.

I’ve developed my writing skills since I’ve been blogging too.

Adult colouring

This has become really popular over recent years. It’s classed as a mindful activity and it really does help you switch off and distract you from your pain. There’s so many choices of colouring books available too, you’re bound to find an option that’s relevant for you.

I started doing adult colouring when I was recovering from my surgery. It gave me something to do and to focus my mind on. I could also see my achievements in my colouring book and this made me feel like I was being productive and creative at the same time.

Some examples of my colouring from my adult colouring book called Secret Garden
A few of the completed pages in my adult colouring book

Cooking

I’ve always loved cooking, but even more so as it’s something I can do standing up to avoid my pain. Sometimes when my pain is bad I like to cook as it makes me feel productive, and I can easily see the end results: a meal for tea; something simple like a new flavour of hummus; or something sweet and delicious like some vegan biscuits. It gives me a sense of achievement and challenge, especially when my partner or family enjoy what I’ve created.

Spend time in nature

This can be a walk through the woods, a picnic in the park, a trip to the beach, or simply sitting on a park bench and enjoying the natural environment. There are so many health benefits of getting outdoors and in to nature, and it can have a huge impact on your mental wellbeing.


Your thoughts

How do you use distraction to help with your pain?

What is the most useful form of distraction for you?

Can you suggest some other distraction ideas?

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One thought on “What is distraction for chronic pain and how can you make it a part of your pain management toolbox

  1. Invisibly Me says:

    I’m a fan of distractions, and it’s only more recently that I’m finding how useful they can be in short bursts throughout the day, but especially in the evening for me. I like what your friend at maybe.kb.craft (which I’ll check out after I write this!) said, about those ‘quick wins’ to ‘bridge periods of hopelessness’. Reading is a big one for me, and TV series when I can get ‘lost’ in them as it takes a lot to capture my dwindling concentration. I also try to take a short walk most days, even if it’s just 10 minutes as it can be quite refreshing. Great post with lots of actionable ideas! xx

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