Is chronic back pain affecting your mental wellbeing?

It has been a while that I wanted to write a post about the mental implications of carrying chronic back pain or any other chronic illness in general. It can be very hard to feel understood when the world around you does not give you a break, and so I felt the need to share my experience hoping that it will bring inspiration and make some of you feel understood for once.

When we go through chronic illness – as I like to call it the invisible illness – we are challenged at many different levels and not just the physical. A lot of people experience some deep anxiety and depression along with their chronic back pain.

If you suffer from any of the following: piriformis syndrome, disc disease, sciatica, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosis spondylitis, fibromyalgia or any other chronic illness that causes flare-ups and pain for more than few days, I can guarantee that you are not only going through a physical challenge, but also an emotional and mental challenge as well.

When we have a family, a job, bills to pay and other responsibilities, we may feel as if the world is against us. In reality, the world is just following its normal flow, but because we can’t handle the external stress (as we are already fighting an internal one), we want everything to stop and give us a break. We are always on ‘catch-up’ mode. That’s at least how I always felt.  I wanted to just abandon everything and move away to just focus on my health and get better.  Every time I saw a new bill or a new thing that had to be done, I felt dread.  I was in a dark, black hole.

When we are trying to survive the constant pain, and the feeling of sickness and that nothing may be back to normal again, the last thing I’d give a damn about is that last bill that is overdue.  Your sole mission every day is to go through the day, so you can get back to bed and lay your bones down.  If you are taking heavy medications, that can also cause some other side effects and you end up treating the original illness and the side effects as well.

Having chronic back pain can be a job alone. that is why it is very very crucial to let your close friends and relatives know about it so that they can support you in any way they can.  I know that it is ‘human nature’ not to want to share our private lives, but your close family members are going to play a huge role in getting you out of the black hole.

The point of this post is to suggest some techniques and strategies that can help you through the healing process. I don’t want to turn it into a rant, even though I do want to discuss this topic because I feel like chronic pain is so so underrated by others.  Just because a person looks fine from the outside, doesn’t mean they are not hurting in the inside.

 CHRONIC BACK PAIN – A SURVIVAL GUIDE.

Meditation: no matter what you think of meditation, I have to say that it helped me so much. Meditation has tons of benefits that includes relaxation and that is KEY. When you are deeply relaxed in a meditative state, your body is in an anabolic state, and that is very restorative.  Meditation will relax your muscles, and also have an amazing effect on your brain.  I always feel like I took a shower from the inside when I meditate.

Also, if you can’t possibly sit still for an hour, don’t worry I was like that too.  Meditation is a practice, and every time you do it, you get better at it.  You can start by just watching your breath in and out for 5 minutes a day, as you sit relaxed in a quiet place. Your mind will start wandering yet you are just observing it go places and gently bring it back to watch your breath.

If you don’t enjoy sitting, you can also practice walking meditations or meditative yoga. There are a lot of resources you can use that I will list below to help you get started.

  • Healing Meditations: This is currently the meditation type I use. I believe that meditation can bring a lot of peace, relaxation and a sense of security and joy into your life.  
  • Nature or silence.  If you are not comfortable with none of the above, you can alternatively just sit in silence and relax and watch your breath go in and out. You will notice that you will get more and more relaxed as you focus on your breath. When you start getting thoughts, don’t judge them, simply move back to your breath and just notice that you were thinking.

Meditation can help you so much with chronic pain, as it relaxes your body and relieves tension. 

Reading:  Beside the obvious educational benefits of reading, it brought me some physical relief as well. The effect of reading was a bit similar to meditation in that I felt more relaxed and at peace and that is why I had to include it in this list.  I also always felt more empowered and had a sense of control when I read certain books. I am not taking about the superficial self motivational books, but rather books that challenged my ideas and thoughts and pushed me to think outside of my comfort zone. Books like:

I have read so many other books as I got hooked on self help material and how much empowerment it brought to my life.  I included  mainly the ones that had a direct impact on me feeling and getting better. I may include a book club page to discuss the books I read – as I read tons of them. Let me know if that would interest you 🙂

Sunshine and nature: Do you feel like your symptoms get worse in the winter? I certainly did.  Sunshine has an amazing effect on our health. We feel happier, and warm from the inside out.  Living in Canada has been a struggle as it gets way too cold here, yet we do get some sun. Take advantage of the summer to go outside for walk, lay down on the grass and soak up the sun.  It is so good for you.

Traveling: stress from the daily routine can really drain us. When you are suffering from a chronic illness, you live one day at a time. You cannot possibly predict if you are going to wake up feeling okay the next day. Some days you just feel fatigued, other days you get an amazing sleep.  This is normally when you wish the world gave you a break and left you alone.  Well maybe you need to take that vacation.  I have always felt amazingly better when I was away.

I love going to warm destinations and I feel the happiest when I’m surrounded by the beach, nature, the smell of the ocean and happy people #nostress

Varedero Beach – sunset time
Cuban vibes
Cuban vibes
Celebrating nature

Low impact stretching and restorative yoga: When we first get diagnosed with piriformis syndrome or sciatica, we tend to always feel stiff and so aggressively stretch all the time. In my experience, this made my condition worse and made me feel hopeless. Try restorative yoga and exercises that make you feel relaxed instead. You can of course stretch as per your physician’s recommendations (which is usually twice a day). You can also start inside the Bootcamp with safe and low impact routines.

Finding your passion: do you have a passion? something you LOVE doing. It can be anything; drawing, singing, writing, making videos on youtube. I always had a passion for fitness and blogs so I immersed myself in it. In fact, I created my current blog during those very dark days when I was treating piriformis syndrome. It gave me a sense of purpose and through it I found my calling. It also motivates me everyday to do everything I can, to be the strongest version of myself so that I can motivate and empower others. So find your passion and let it be that source of inspiration. It will help you fight through pain, and give you sense of belonging and that you have something to live for.

Self development/ self help: it is very easy to fall into deep anxiety and depression when you are suffering from a chronic illness.   Surround yourself with all the tools you need to help yourself.

  • Create your home sanctuary: dedicate some space at home for reading, meditation and just relaxing and journaling. It is important to create that space where you feel at ease and at peace, away from all the noise and distractions.
  • Watch empowering self-help videos, and webinars: anything that can teach you something new.  Ideally, something aligned with your passion. The more you learn about a topic, the more you get excited about exploring it and you are not in that deep negative state.
  • Reach out for help: If you feel like you are overall unhappy and have a lot of negative thoughts, it would be a good idea to seek professional help. There are a lot of free counselors in every city who are willing to listen to you and help you go through a hard time.  You can also talk to a close relative, or someone you know will understand you and listen to you. about your chronic back pain or illness and how it makes you feel.

Get Support: I have started a facebook group called: fitness, nutrition, and wellness for chronic pain warriors and I welcome you to join. It is a very empowering, non-judgmental space where we talk about chronic pain and how to heal it through exercise, nutrition, and a holistic lifestyle. Join other warriors today and connect with us.

I just realized that this post is getting pretty long so I’ll stop here. I can still think of some amazing tools and techniques to add, but I’ll leave that to part 2 of this post 🙂 I hope you give these a try in the mean time. 

  • Finally! An article that understands my daily struggle! I’m 44 & have had 5 major back surgeries. I still have 4 bulging discs and 2 separated disc and a recent fall caused my spine to shift. I take nothing for the pain. Thank you for providing such great information that gives me a glimmer of hope.

    P.s. I can’t read though because the pain takes over my thoughts. Other than that I’m going to try the other recommendations. God bless!

    • Hi GG,
      That sounds rough I totally get the struggle. I am really glad the article was helpful to you. Fighting chronic pain can lead to depression and a sense of hopelessness and I feel that it is my duty to empower people to stay strong and fight for themselves. I believe meditation and any relaxation practises will bring a lot of peace of mind and help you gather yourself and your energy to keep fighting. Stay strong and thank you for your comment!

  • I have chronic back pain , the pain dr didn’t give me anything, says I can go back to work with No restrictions , he claims I can lift 50 lbs with my buldging discs and herniated one and spondlythisis , work comp says I can work because of this pain dr , the others said I have restrictions but the pain dr is the last dr treating me , so I guess they go with that , anyway , how do you go back to work when you have pain every day, if I try and go out shopping at least rly pace for 3-4 hrs , I suffer for days

    • Have you tried going to a physio or athletic therapist? they usually test you and they can see that you are clearly restricted and in pain. A note from them can give you few days off to rest. You can also go to different doctors that can give you more accurate diagnoses and some time off to rest. It is usually good to rest when the pain is acute, and start moving after that. It’s never good to just lay down for days without any movement because the only way for your discs to regenerate is through movement.
      Hope that helps!

      • Loved your article! I have been dealing with chronic pain for 12 months now. I have arthritis in lower back along with some disc degeneration. In addition, I had pulled my psoas muscle about a year ago and still dealing with it. Overall, it has improved.

        You are dead on – I have good days and then bad days. When I am not focused on the pain, life seems to be better and happier.

        I have been wanting to start a blog on this too as I have always been very passionate about health and fitness. You have inspired me.

        Thank you!

        Katharine
        California

        • Hi Katharine,

          Thank you for your comment. I am glad to hear the article has resonated with you. Yes lots of ups and downs but overall it improves with time. Sometimes it hit again and we feel like we are back to square one. But we need to remember that it’s a journey towards healing not a sprint 🙂 Thank you very much for reading the blog and your support <3

  • Thanks for the HOPE ! ! Two ADR’s
    L-4 L-5 L-5 S-1, then I had a cadaver ACK PUT in left knee. Then crashed motorcycle and broke fibula, talus was pulverized and I have a torn rotator cuff, and labrum tearing. I TOTALLY understand YOUR War. Please contact me…🙏🏽

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