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7 Ways to Make Pain Work for You in Recovery

Pain often serves a purpose — physical pain can remind you to take a break between workouts, for example.  Emotional pain also serves a purpose. For instance, it can allow you time to grieve the loss of a loved one and honor their memory. However, for a lot of people, pain can linger for months, or even years, creating unnecessary suffering and decreasing your quality of life. Pain can be a roadblock to addiction recovery if not addressed. If you struggle to find ways to make pain work for you in recovery, you’re not alone.

If you have avoided seeking help out of fear, rest assured that pain management for the physical and emotional symptoms of substance abuse doesn’t need to involve a lifetime of prescriptions or invasive procedures. There are more options than ever before for pain that has lingered too long. Here are eight different ways to make physical and emotional pain work for you.

How to Make Pain Work for You in Recovery

Daily pain management can be incredibly challenging. Chronic pain—whether physical or mental—can often lead you to lose out on some of your life’s most memorable experiences. With that said, you have the power to change your mindset and break free of the pain’s hold on you.

Maybe you have back pain, neck pain, or nerve pain. Perhaps you’re dealing with the emotional pain of a breakup, struggling to cope with trauma, or living with chronic depression. Whatever the cause, you have the power to harness your pain as a tool to push you forward in life.

Eight ways to make pain work for you in recovery include:

  1. The basics of health and wellness
  2. Understand your limitations
  3. Practice mindfulness
  4. Identify and express your feelings
  5. Tell other people how you feel
  6. Keep a journal
  7. Focus on your goals

If you find yourself suffering emotionally or physically, you may look for anything to help ease the emotional pain. Unfortunately, many turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the mental anguish of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Others struggling with chronic pain often begin misusing prescription painkillers as a way to numb the physical torment.

Instead of turning to substance abuse, make pain work for you in recovery by mastering your mind, strengthening your body, and reinvigorating your connection to your spirit.

1. The Basics of Health and Wellness

The easiest way to start is to start small. Getting back to the basics of health and wellness can make a world of a difference in reducing your pain levels. As you slowly introduce healthy habits into your daily routine, you can begin to make pain work for you. In mastering the basics of health and wellness, you can also strengthen your pain tolerance and become one with your mind. 

The basics of health include:

  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Diet

An essential part of health and wellness is rest. In fact, sleeping is essential for your overall well-being, especially in detox and early recovery. It is also necessary for making physical pain work for you because sleep helps to reduce inflammation and promote healing.

Another great way to make pain work for you is regular exercise. Not only does it release endorphins, but it also helps to increase your pain tolerance. Practicing daily exercises and slowly increasing your workout regime will boost your physical and mental health.

Pairing sleep and exercise with a healthy diet can also help to make physical pain work for you. This is because certain nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation. Not to mention, many people in recovery from substance abuse are deficient in many of the body’s essential vitamins and nutrients.

2. Understand Your Limitations

A key step in making pain work for you is to understand your body’s limitations. Defining your limitations and respecting your physical boundaries can be achieved by determining your natural pain tolerance. One way to do this is by monitoring your resting heart rate and blood pressure, as well as your level of activity during the day.

After, you can set healthy, practical limits for yourself when using your muscles during day-to-day activities and exercise regimes. If your goal is to increase your mobility or strength, you can use your natural pain tolerance as a guide to get comfortable with discomfort. Alternatively, if you’re hoping to lower your social anxiety, you can plan weekly outings to meet new people and work on your communication skills.

That being said, becoming comfortable with discomfort is a great coping skill that can help you grow during treatment. In group therapy, you can learn to tolerate short-lived periods of pain or discomfort without fear or avoidance. This mental exercise allows you to push past avoidant behaviors to thrive outside of your comfort zone. 

Gaining a better understanding of your natural pain tolerance and getting comfortable with discomfort while keeping your boundaries in mind can be a part of an individualized treatment plan to benefit your recovery.

3. Practice Mindfulness

You can make pain work for you by practicing mindfulness, or maintaining the state of being aware and present in the moment. One way to do this is by focusing on your breath and paying attention to your thoughts and sensations without judgment. 

Mindfulness can benefit pain management in exercises such as:

  • Relaxation techniques
  • Visualization techniques

One of the best ways to make pain work for you is by healing and growing in a safe and mindful environment. This is because mindfulness helps prevent you from pushing your body or mind past its limits.

Mindfulness techniques for relaxation, such as progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing, can be helpful in making physical pain work for you. These techniques help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Additionally, practicing mindfulness alongside visualization techniques can be beneficial in making physical pain work for you. These visualization techniques involve picturing yourself in a situation where you are successfully managing your pain.

4. Identify and Express Your Feelings

Identifying your feelings is an essential step in making pain work for you. In fact, learning to name your feelings can help you to understand your emotions and how to deal with them in a healthy way.

After you understand what you feel, you can practice healthy forms of self-expression to soothe your emotional pain. In fact, you can express your emotions through the simplest of actions, like crying. While crying doesn’t have the best reputation, it can be an excellent way to release stress and tension. It may not seem like it, but letting yourself cry can actually help to make emotional and physical pain work for you.

However, if you find yourself dwelling on negative thoughts, it can aggravate your pain. Dealing with these thoughts as they come can help make pain work for you.

5. Tell Other People How You Feel

While identifying and expressing your feelings is an amazing first step, telling other people how you feel can help immensely. This is because it allows you to release your emotions in a safe and healthy way surrounded by people who care. Having routine check-ins with yourself and your support system can help you keep friends and family in the loop in case you need extra emotional support. 

Telling other people how you feel can also help to make pain work for you by providing insights and guidance. Whether you’re sharing in a CBT group discussion or a team-building exercise in experiential therapy, sharing how you feel can help others understand your perspective. After, the group members can share their points of view in addition to encouragement, advice, and comfort.

6. Keep a Journal

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help to make pain work for you. As you practice journaling your thoughts, you can keep track of your moods and process your emotions in a healthy way.

Similarly, noting your physical aches and pains each day can help you track your progress. It can also provide background information for your doctor if your treatment plan needs adjustments.

Another way you can use writing to make pain work for you is through a daily gratitude list. Setting aside 10 minutes to thank the things in your life that you’re grateful for can help to shift your focus from the negative to the positive.

7. Focus On Your Goals

Focusing on your goals can help to redirect your attention away from your current pain. This will require some discipline, but the effort will be worth it in the long run.

When looking for ways to make pain work for you while focusing on your goals, one excellent method is to find a healthy, new hobby. Doing something you’re passionate about can take your mind off your current situation while helping you reinvigorate your passion for life.

You Can Find Ways to Make Pain Work for You

Finding ways to make pain work for you can seem elusive when you’re actively suffering. There are accessible forms of treatment that can help. More importantly, you can make pain work for you if you’re willing to put in the effort.

During addiction treatment for substance abuse, you will learn coping skills and healthy behaviors that help you manage pain in recovery. Pain, after all, is a combination of what happens to us and how we respond. 

If you are struggling with pain that has lingered for too long, know that you have options. These eight tips can help to make pain work for you. Then you can live a happier and healthier life. Before you know it, you will begin to master your mind, strengthen your body. You can also reinvigorate your connection to your spirit.

In the words of the famous Roman poet, Ovid, “Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.”

Looking for Help?

If you are looking for support resources for yourself or addiction treatment options for a loved one, please reach out by calling 866-881-1184. We’re available 24/7, and every call is free and confidential.

Alexandra Kraska
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT