When we are in chronic pain we develop defence mechanisms in order to cope with our physical and psychological wounds. Every individual learns to cope with their pain differently and a lot of these strategies are forms in which we are not necessarily aware of while others are obtained through conscious efforts. In the same way, these skills may cause negative outcomes to ourselves or those around us while healthy methods allow us to manage our pain and adapt appropriately. We can describe “poor” mechanisms as “destructive/maladaptive” behaviours and “healthy” coping mechanisms “constructive/adaptive” behaviours.
Destructive and Maladaptive Coping Strategies:
There are extensive maladaptive coping strategies we use when we deal with pain that actually make the situation worse. These mechanisms can affect social relationships, heighten pre-existing problems and may form into mental illness such as anxiety and/or depression. Common destructive coping strategies include but are not limited to:
- Avoidance or withdrawal
- Substance abuse
- Self-blame or blame others
- Wishful thinking
You may recognize some of these mechanisms discussed in Stages of Chronic Pain. Perhaps you relate to some of these behaviours within yourself.
Constructive and Adaptive Coping Strategies:
It takes a cognitive effort to re-shape our coping mechanisms into constructive and adaptive behaviours. You will notice the strategies listed below require greater effort to obtain than destructive mechanisms. In order to better cope with chronic illness or pain, the effort ultimately lies within ourselves. Below are examples of helpful ways to manage pain and how to effectively move forward:
- Mindfulness & meditation
- Eating well & exercising regularly
- Spending time with loved ones
- Engaging in new or old hobbies
- Keeping busy (clean, walk, run errands, start a new project, etc.)
- Joining a club
- Allowing yourself to feel without ruminating on emotions
- Seeking professional or medical help
- Adapting accordingly
Like most positive things in life, maintaining healthy coping skills is a continuous life-long effort. However, as these processes are learned and practiced, they will become easier to do.