When I went to the follow-up group for our Chronic Pain Clinic a few years ago, they went around the room asking what was the best piece of advice we got for our coping toolbox.
I was the second person to answer and I did so in my very sincere tone and straight face, “How to breathe.” Well, people were laughing and nodding at the same time.
You see, while breathing is something that comes naturally, it doesn’t when it comes to chronic pain. The reflex action when you are doing something through pain is to hold your breath, right? Well, the trick is to actually exhale on the activity, whether it is a stretch, lifting something or even walking.
This simple fact has made my life a lot easier. But there is more.
If I am trying to work through a cramp or spasm, I use the breathing exercise we were taught – breathe in through your nose on the count of three, expanding your belly with the air. Then breathe out through your mouth on the count of six, slowly allowing your belly to empty. I use this also for relieving stress and trying to get to sleep. I usually do five to ten breaths at a time.
Another way breathing helps is just to concentrate on regular breathing to take my mind off a pain when I am in a situation where I can’t take meds, lay down, walk it out, etc. Just keeping my mind on breathing helps me manage the pain and not give it away that I even have it.
My lovable mutt, Violet has this thing when I sigh. Sometimes I am just trying to catch a breath (I have asthma amongst everything else), others I am taking a deep breath in reaction to pain or depression. But the one that worries her is that I am mad (which during severe bipolar episodes I could be. She is very sensitive, especially when it comes to me because we look after each other – two arthritic old ladies LOL! If I cry, she comes over and rests her head on my knee. So it has taken her awhile to adjust to my breathing habits.
While breathing is the most natural and important thing we do simply to live, it is even more so when you are living a life of chronic pain, mental illness or other chronic issues.
I am including the song “Breathe” by Christian artist, Jonny Diaz. While it is about the craziness of life and resting at the Lord’s feet, I think everyone can get something out of it. I know it really speaks to me on many levels.