7 ways to look after your mental health when you’re in pain

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This week though, I am very proud to have a guest blog post from a blogging friend of mine, Lauren Ephithite, who shares her top tips on how to look after your mental health when you’re in pain.

Lauren Ephithite is a mental health writer and advocate based in Norfolk, UK. She writes about her experiences of anxiety and depression with the aims of increasing awareness and reducing stigma. She hopes that sharing her mental health story will help herself and others.

Find out more about Lauren on her website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Lauren and Milly, her beautiful Labrador

Pain’s a bitch. For whatever reason and in whatever way, it is horrible when you are in pain. As well as looking after your body it’s really important to look after your mind. When I’m in pain it’s normally from sciatica or headaches. I developed sciatica about 5 years ago. This is a really painful condition. It starts with pain in my lower back and then works its way down my leg. Sometimes it feels like a dull ache. Other times it can be a shooting pain. At its worst the pain is so bad that I can’t move! My muscles feel weak and I can’t move without being in agony.

When I’m suffering with sciatica I cannot walk very far without pain. You’re advised not to rest too much. But sometimes that means all I can do is sit on the sofa, hobble round the house and then sit down again. I miss going for long walks with Milly, my Labrador. Spending time with Milly and walking is a big part of how I look after my mental health. I get sick of being in pain. I get sick of not being able to do very much. I’m all for being lazy when I choose to be! But when you’re forced to be lazy because your body is in pain it’s not fun.

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When I’m in a lot of pain and discomfort with sciatica it can sometimes leave me feeling low, down and depressed. Anyone would feel sad and low in this situation but if, like me, you already struggle with anxiety and depression then it’s easy to crash and crash hard. When my sciatica returns (because it will) I will be ready. I’ll be prepared. I will think about my mental health and try and look after it before it gets bad. Here are my seven tips to look after your mental health when you’re in pain:

  1. Share how you feel. Admit to yourself when you’re feeling down. Acknowledge that you are struggling. Open up to your friends and family how you feel. Getting it out and being open about how you feel goes a long way in looking after your mental health.
  2. Cry if you need to. This goes along with number 1. Expressing the way that you feel, whether that is through words or tears is a good way of looking after your mental health.
  3. Treat your physical pain. I often try to ‘keep calm and carry on’ even when I’m in pain. I try not to take too many pills as I don’t want to be taking them all the time! But this can be counter-productive as the pain really drags you down. For my sciatica and headaches this involves taking regular painkillers but also using pain relief gel, using heatpacks for my back and a cold flannel on my forehead.
  4. Distract yourself. What activities can you do to occupy your mind? This will distract you from the pain and what you can’t do because of it. Doing something can ensure that your mind isn’t focused on bad thoughts and feelings.
  5. Have things to look forward to. Treat yourself – eat your favourite food, watch your favourite films and read a good book. Can you plan something fun to do next weekend? Tell yourself the pain will pass and you will be able to enjoy yourself soon.
  6. Get some gentle exercise if you can. Depending on what your pain is this might not be possible. As I said earlier for my sciatica I need to try and not stay too still so will try and walk round the house often. When I have a headache sometimes a short, gentle walk outside in the fresh air is helpful. One of my other favourite gentle exercises is Pilates, which can be useful for stretching and strengthening your muscles and body.
  7. Sleep. When you’re in a lot of pain you can have trouble sleeping. You can also be so exhausted from dealing with the pain that you need extra sleep. When I’m tired my mental health definitely suffers. I am extra vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Sleep if and when you can, it will help you cope with the physical and mental pain.

How do you look after your mental health if you’re in pain? What are your top tips?

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