Mindful Management for Chronic Pain

T3036982his past weekend I had the opportunity to see the move “Cake”, starring Jennifer Anniston. It portrays the story of a successful lawyer whose life suddenly comes to a screeching halt when a car runs a red light leaving her with life threatening injuries, coping with the loss of her seven year old son. The movie depicts her journey with chronic pain, addiction to pain medications, lost relationships, and failed suicide attempts. Her physical and emotional pain is palpable throughout the movie even as she goes about what appears to be normal daily activities. She is judged, misunderstood, isolated, and afraid - afraid of living the rest of her life in unrelenting pain.

This intense portrayal made me wonder how often those suffering with debilitating pain are misjudged. They are often perceived as lazy. They are not trying hard enough. Maybe they should find a hobby and then they can just forget about it. But they cannot forget about their pain. It is with them day in and out, made worse because they feel isolated and alone.

Chronic pain is defined as any condition that continues to cause symptoms three months beyond the normal healing process. So why does pain persist in some and not in others? Is it really just trapped in the brain someplace?

It is true that our pain centers originate in the brain, and when pain continues for three months or more there is a chance that the “pain switch” in the brain forgets how to turn itself off. Consider if you were to burn your hand on a hot stove. Your hand might blister and need medical attention. But as the blister heals you begin to feel the pain less and your pain switch no longer needs to remain engaged because the threat to the body no longer exists. The switch is turned off and your only memory of the injury might be to use caution next time you use the stove. Now consider you were deliberately pushed into a hot stove and burned your hand. The injury itself may heal, but the pain may persist because of the trauma of having been deliberately hurt. The emotional pain persists in the body much longer than the physical pain. Emotional pain which is associated with a physical illness, accident, or injury can prevent the pain center from returning to a balanced state. Our brain continues to send off painful “alarm” signals to the body as a form of protection from perceived threat.

Those living with illnesses such as fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, or back pain are often told the pain is not real by doctors, family, and friends. These types of responses to a person’s pain can cause intense emotional pain, and in many cases, perpetuate the pain cycle. Chronic pain sufferers may feel depressed, anxious, and hopeless which often intensifies their pain experience. They may go from doctor to doctor looking for relief, or at the very least, find someone who understands their situation. Quite often those struggling with chronic pain experience a sense of relief if they are given a diagnosis because it means someone believes their pain is real.

So how do we break the pain cycle? Does pain relief need to come in the form of a pill, I.V., or injection? Is surgery an option? Or, is there a more holistic, gentle way to treat chronic pain?

Join us February 17, 2015 as we explore skills to mindfully manage chronic pain symptoms.

Meetings will be held every other Tuesday in the Restorative Medicine Center at 245 Barclay Circle, Ste. 600, Rochester Hills, MI 48307. For more details see the events page on this website.




Stress Management #101

stressmanagementThe morning begins with the usual rush to get the three adults living in my home ready to begin the day.   My husband kisses me good-bye and reminds me that the car needs to get picked up from the dealership. I remind him that we have our last open house at our daughter’s school tonight. I wonder if I will have enough time to stop at the grocery store to fill our very bare refrigerator, or will we have to resort to having cereal for dinner.   Wasn’t life supposed to get easier as the children got older?   Gone are those long nights up with a crying baby.   I am only responsible for coordinating three schedules instead of five and I have not worked a school bake sale in years.   So what is with all the stress?

Changing Face of Stress

As I age I have come to the realization that each stage of life brings with it its own set of worries. While I may not lose sleep at night wondering if we have enough money to pay for diapers, I do become preoccupied with concerns over retirement.   My heart no longer breaks when my little girl falls on the playground, but it aches as I wave good-bye to her as she heads off to college.  And, like so many of my peers, just as our children embark on their own lives, we become caretakers of our parents.    We have been blessed to have both sets of our parents living nearby, involved in our children’s lives, but this summer each of them experienced their own health crisis requiring us to coordinate their care.

We all have our own stress stories.   Some days, weeks, and years are better than others.   We have all had that day when we should have just stayed in bed.  Stress comes in all different forms.   There is the daily routine of our lives that can cause stress. We may not even recognize it as stress – “it’s just life” we tell ourselves.   Then there are those defining moments of intense stress that have a profound effect on our ability to manage that daily routine. Illness, divorce, loss of a job, and death stop us in our tracks, searching for ways to deal with feelings of fear, loss of control, depression, and anxiety.

From Tigers to Traffic Jams – The Result is the Same

Our bodies were designed perfectly to deal with extreme stress.   Think for a moment. Before the days of grocery stores, cars, and modern appliances we would have had to hunt for food and search for healthy water in order to survive.   The human body was designed to react to moments of extreme danger for survival purposes.   Hormones are released that increase the heart rate to help us breathe as we run from prey. Blood moves from inactive tasks such as digestion to feed muscles and brain preparing us for the fight or flight reaction.   Once the imminent danger is resolved, our body then returns to a state of relaxation.   But what happens when we are chronically stressed?   We are no longer being chased by that Bengal tiger, but the low hum of everyday stress has the same effect on our body.   The result is usually sleeplessness, weight gain, stomach disorders, anxiety, anger, low libido and physical illness.

So what is the answer?   We live in a face paced world full of challenges great and small.   We must work at helping our bodies return to homeostasis.   Some basic ideas for stress management are:

  • Exercise – You do not need to belong to a gym or possess a variety of equipment in your basement to reap the restorative benefits of exercise.  You can quickly reduce stress with just a 10 minute walk around your office.  Be creative in your exercise routine.  The point is simply to move your body.
  • Eat a balanced diet – Keeping your blood sugar even and avoiding long periods of fasting will keep your energy level and keep your brain sharp.  Consider packing your own lunch to avoid fast food in your car.   Eat high protein snacks such as nuts or low fat cheese in between meals to hold you over until the next meal.
  • Get plenty of rest – We are a nation that is sleep deprived.   Our bodies need at least 6-7 hours of rest each night to regenerate tissue.  Be sure to limit screen time before going to bed.   Set a nightly routine and avoid eating before going to bed.
  • Drink plenty of water – Being properly hydrated improves every system in the body.   It helps flush out toxins, improves fatigue, and limits mindless eating.   If you are drinking the recommended 8 glasses of water per day you have the added benefit of built in breaks as well!
  • Share your pain – Studies show that stress levels decrease when we share our emotions with a family member, friend, clergy member, or counselor.   Joining a support group, walking with a friend, or even writing your thoughts down in a journal can improve feelings of anxiety and depression caused by stress.

Stress is unavoidable in today’s overly connected world.   With all the advancements in technology there is very little down time in our day.   In order to combat uncomfortable and potentially dangerous stress symptoms we must put ourselves on the “to do” list.   Take that yoga class, learn to play an instrument, take a walk in the woods – the list is endless.   Whatever you choose, the important thing is to be consistent in order to avoid stress symptoms before they occur. Look for more stress management techniques in upcoming posts.

Next post – The Costs and Benefits of Social Media in Coping with Stress

By: Susan Orlando, LLPC, NCC


Postpartum Blues – The First Parenting Challenge

My long-awaited baby is finally here.  I have wanted this baby for so long and dreamt of postpartum blog postthe day when I could actually hold him in my arms.  And now he’s finally here and I am ….sad, anxious, scared …definitely not happy.   What kind of mother am I?  I don’t know how to take care of him, I can’t get him to breastfeed, and I don’t even feel much of anything towards him.  I am a failure at the one thing I always wanted more than anything else – being a mother.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?  Did you know that 15-20% of women experience some level of post partum depression or anxiety?  If you are dealing with feelings of depression or anxiety you are not alone!

Is This All Normal?

All new mothers experience some feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious – having a baby is a huge life transition and adjustment that affects all aspects of a woman’s life. This normal, but frustrating postpartum experience can be a woman's first parenting challenge. The exhaustion and lack of sleep that comes with caring for a newborn is often unexpected and all encompassing.   Many new mothers doubt their ability to care for their baby and feel isolated as they learn this new life role.  So how do you know whether you are experiencing a normal adjustment to motherhood or are developing postpartum depression or anxiety?

Baby Blues vs. Postpartum Depression

The first 2 to 3 weeks after delivery are called the Baby Blues.  During this time, a woman’s hormones are all over the place.  It’s common to have tearfulness, mood swings, and irritability during this time.  This usually resolves by itself by around the third week.  If a woman continues to feel persistently anxious, overwhelmed, and/or sad after that, she should talk to her doctor who can evaluate her for postpartum depression or anxiety.  The doctor will consider her physical and emotional symptoms, their severity, and their duration to help make a determination.  Mothers who are suffering from postpartum depression will often also have feelings of guilt, hopelessness, regret, anger, emptiness, or generally just not feeling like themselves.

Karen Duffy, LLPC


A Mindful Solution to the Fall Frenzy

Have you ever noticed that certain times of the year manifest a sense of anxiety or tension within our souls?   Birthdays? Holidays? Family gatherings? Even the change of seasons? 8121336The onset of fall, in particular, can bring about a sense of sadness or anxiety. The long summer days come to a dramatic halt and suddenly our calendars are filled with a long list of “to do’s”.   September not only means trips to the cider mill on a crisp afternoon, but also a litany of sports events, parent teacher conferences, homework, and field trips.   Even if you have no children or your children are grown and have left home, the fall season can trigger memories of our own childhood than can lead to anxiety. The fall season reminds us that all too soon the holidays and winter months will be upon us.

It is no wonder we feel stressed!

So often we rush through our day without noticing the drive to work or what we ate for lunch.   We collapse into bed exhausted preparing to start the routine all over the next day.   We dream of those long lazy days spent on warm sunny beaches. But did you know there is a solution to this feeling of “burn-out”?   It is called mindfulness.   Being mindful simply means paying attention.   It means tuning out all of the noise even for a moment and focusing on the here and now.   Even taking three slow, deep breaths at a stoplight can greatly reduce those feelings of anxiety and exhaustion.

Mindful Solutions

Begin by taking a breath in as if you are inhaling a beautiful, fragrant bouquet of flowers.   Fill your belly with air as if it were a big balloon.   Hold the breath for three counts – one…two…three. Then exhale slowly as if you were blowing out a candle.   Repeat this process three times each time you need a break and then notice how you feel afterwards.   Is your heart beating a little slower?   Are your shoulders a little less tense? Giving yourself a “time out” from the stress and anxiety of daily living can improve your mood, blood pressure, and even help you sleep better at night.

So the next time you find yourself wandering into the school supplies aisle or you are about to give that big presentation, pause and take time to breathe deeply. Enjoy the memories of a walking through a pile of crunchy leaves, the splendor of the fall colors, and yes, even the smell of a fresh box of crayons.   Practice becoming a human “be-ing” and not a “human do-ing”. By Susan Orlando, LLPC, NCC


A Not So Empty Nest

They’re gone. The house, which was so busy and noisy over the summer, seemed empty and lonely after they left. Or maybe it’s just that I felt empty and lonely. It seems like just 2522746yesterday the kids were here – laughing, arguing, making messes, and hanging out with all of their friends. Then they left to go back to college and it was just too quiet.

In the last month, I saw moms everywhere getting their children ready to return to school and I thought about how quickly those years passed.   Where did they go? It was really hard when my first child left for college – but I adjusted. There was still so much to do with two others at home. Then the second one left and it seemed so strange. We missed them both but threw ourselves into the activities of our youngest and savored the opportunity to have some special time with just him. Then he left for college too – and life seemed very empty at first. No more groups of loud teenagers, no more screaming at sports on TV, no more rushing off to practices or games, and no more late night bonfires with laughter ringing out in the darkness. It took awhile to adjust to having an empty nest. Keeping busy at work helped filled the days, but the nights and weekends were harder.

One of the hardest things that many of us moms struggle with is the need to feel needed by our kids. So much of our identity is wrapped up in being a mother and fulfilling the needs of our family. When they leave home it can make us feel like we’re not needed anymore and question who we are as a person. They’re off on their own and they’re managing without us. But you know what? They still need us – in different ways than before- but they still need us. And not just for money to help them get through college. They need our unconditional love, our moral support and our guidance – and sometimes they even now ask for our opinions! They are becoming independent, successful adults. And I see an appreciation and love from them for us that I didn’t see so much before they left home. And I think that that means we’ve done a pretty good job at being parents. Not perfect – there is no such thing as a perfect parent. But pretty good.

Over time, I have learned to embrace having fewer demands on my time. I have more time to relax and do things that I enjoy. I’ve found new interests and taken on new challenges. It’s actually become a very enjoyable phase of life with the freedom to do whatever I want and the time and energy to become closer to my husband.   I still miss the kids and greatly enjoy connecting with them through texts (frequently), calls (rarely), skyping, and occasional visits. But the emptiness and loneliness I felt after they leave for another school year has lessened with each good-bye. They’re all following their own paths in three different states now and wont’ be coming home much anymore except for holidays. They’re gone from home, but they’ll never be gone from my heart. And I know we’ll never be gone from their hearts either.

By: Karen Duffy, LLPC, NCC