Take the Wheel: 9 Ways to Overcome Healing Obstacles & Regain Control

Table of contents

Take the Wheel: 9 Ways to Overcome Healing Obstacles & Regain Control

Have you ever thought ‘I know what I should be doing but I’m just not doing it?’ In this article, we look at some common obstacles that might be holding you back in your recovery efforts.

Interestingly, it can even be the things we do in trying to help ourselves that contribute to a cycle of pain. Taking an honest look into the things you do and don’t do can help identify how to start living well with chronic pain. And this can be a really important step to recovery because combating chronic pain isn’t about fixing something that’s damaged. It’s about setting the physical and emotional conditions that allow your body systems to recover and restore the balance.

And because of this, your recovery REALLY is about you. What you think and what you can do, not what someone else can do. So, are you ready to grab hold of that wheel and take control?

What are the obstacles to healing when you're in pain

Asking yourself questions such as ‘What’s within my control?’, ‘What information do I need?’ and ‘Who’s making the decisions?’ or ‘Who’s driving? is a good place to start. The latter being one of the most important when it comes to managing pain.

This list of recovery obstacles below is just for you, so grab a cuppa, get comfortable because, there's a good chance reading these might make you feel a bit uncomfortable if they sound familiar to you. But seriously, nothing that can't be overcome with a honest bit of self-reflection and courage. If you need support, we’re here to help. And, we realize there are also a number of obstacles in the form of access, affordability, and cultural barriers. We will address these in a separate article soon so please, stay tuned.

Let’s start with how NOT to take the wheel, that is letting someone or something else drive:

1. Letting ‘Worry’ drive

We are hard-wired to scan for danger and worry plays an important, evolutionary role in protecting us.  Worry is based on the future - a possible event or outcome. If you let your worries make all the decisions based on these ‘possibilities’, you may miss out. There are other emotions that can also take over such as shame, guilt, and anger. It's understandable they might pop up when you are dealing with the very frustrating and exhausting aspects of living with chronic pain, but they can also be extremely effective at stopping you from trying new things.

For me, I was worried I would ‘fail’ at pain management and that my pain would get worse. Both of these feelings held me back for many years. As I was learning some new pain management techniques, I had this voice constantly asking me ‘What if I can't handle it?’, ‘What if I am not strong enough to do it?’ The voice of worry stopped me from even trying. I would stagnate in procrastination, and eventually just fall back into familiar yet unhelpful habits.

Excessive worry also prevented me exercising because I was scared the pain would get worse. I had linked movement with pain (from years ago when I would hurt my back constantly playing my particularly ‘enthusiastic’ style of netball) and so I avoided it. Perhaps it might be useful to remember that your worry story is just one possible future outcome, so it can help to ask ‘what if I’m wrong?’. Would you be open to the idea of ‘confronting’ rather than ‘avoiding’ as a way of linking your thinking to your actions in your recovery pathways?

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” - Mark Twain

2. Letting ‘Pain’ drive

Do you judge all decisions on whether they will or won't hurt? Hopefully by now you have an idea that chronic pain does not equal physical damage. If you constantly let pain set the limits (thinking you’re going to cause more pain), there’s a good chance you might not try anything. Therefore, pain is not the best tool to determine what you can and can't do. When you start moving again and slowly build up your tolerance (using helpful techniques like pacing), it's likely that it will hurt, especially if you haven't been moving for a while and your muscles have lost their strength.

Is there a chance you could open up to the idea of being ‘anti-fragile’ and of becoming stronger? Remember, even a top athlete will feel sore the day after a tough workout, but that pain doesn't stop them getting back on track the next session. Using pre-determined activity and flare up plans to guide your activity is a much better approach. Being guided by pain sets up a whole set of cognitive (brain) and behavioral (things you do/don’t do) processes that impair recovery.

Instead sticking to a plan that respects pain, but doesn’t depend on it shifts the focus away from pain. This usually means using pacing and graded activity strategies (see pain management alternatives). It might sound strange and perhaps even subtle, but overtime this shift in focus from pain-guided activity, to pre-planned strategies, can make a remarkable difference. When I began using pacing and strengthening my body again I would tell myself ‘Just do it - you won't know until you try’.

3. Letting ‘The Cure’ drive

No, not the band, this obstacle is about the desperate search for that one thing. The clinician, that health guru, maybe it's the latest fad you read about. It is easy to get attached to the idea of a magic pill. That's the power of the placebo effect, we would all love to have something sweep in and take away the pain. It is possible to stay stuck in this state for a while, making deals and searching for cures, always bargaining for the ‘no pain’ grand prize.

I spent years waiting for a knight in shining armor (or maybe a white lab coat?) to sweep in with “the thing” that was going to sleigh the painful beast. I searched, I saw many, many people. I have figured out though, the best person in the driver's seat is me. I was giving up all my control and agency in this desperate search, and, in doing so, dismissing all the things I could do to help myself to avoid flare ups, mitigate pain and to truly offer myself some compassion and understanding.

In this search, I also continually reinforced the idea that I was broken and needed to be “fixed”. This did some damage to my self-esteem and became an unhelpful belief that spiraled over the years into deep feelings of unworthiness. Not only that but this fueled a relentless pursuit of pleasing, proving, and putting on a brave face. That's exhausting! And guess what, it made my pain worse too!. If ‘the cure’ is driving, then your destination is always set to ‘no pain’ land. So when you try something (a new exercise, or other pain treatment) and your pain flares or even just stays the same, you’ll consider it a failure and give up, right? And that's not going to help you progress.

4. ‘I can't change (otherwise known as no one’s driving)

If you believe you can’t change, or even that things will only worsen, then you reduce the chances of positive change. This is known as a fixed mindset, as opposed to growth mindset, where you believe that your ability or understanding and intelligence are fixed and cannot be changed. Growth vs fixed mindsets are based on the work of Carol Dweck and, if want to know more try her mindset book. Whether you realize it or not, you can change…..you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The body, brain and nervous system are always adapting and changing. But if YOU change nothing then, NOTHING WILL CHANGE. You could also think of it like hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Or again, like Henry Ford famously said “If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got". On the other hand, if you practice something new and challenging over and over then your body and nervous system will literally change to help you do that thing better. The trick here is this: you have to steer the change, by choosing what you do. And by taking hold of that wheel!

How do you adapt to living with chronic pain

Now let’s look at how you can take the wheel, and when you are in the driver's seat:

Keep your eyes on the prize

When you worry, catastrophize, monitor symptoms, you are thinking about pain all the time. With this constant attention and often resistance, pain actually persists. So, what about wellness? What about the things you enjoy? Maybe it is better to consider where you want to go and start focusing on that.  This way you can identify the aspects of your life that you work towards. You can control what you eat, how you move and on where you place your attention. Maybe the prize is ease, joy, gratitude and if you focus on those things, you can make choices to help you get closer to them.

Replace your inner critic with your inner cheerleader

We all have that little voice. It's a part of you that is playing the protector, trying to keep you safe but it can also hold you back when you listen to it. It's the voice that says ‘nah, you can’t do that!’ and ‘you’re not good enough’ This voice always finds a reason why you are to blame. The inner critic also likes to generalize and use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’. ‘You’re always letting people down’, ‘You’ll never be able to [insert activity]’.

If you listen to this voice, it’s likely you'll be persuaded by it to put off starting something new. You can challenge that voice by questioning the truth of the statements. Or a great way to fact check is ask a trusted friend? You can also seek out your inner cheerleader? Can you listen to that voice? (And, this voice might be very soft to begin with!). The cheerleader says, ‘give it a try’, ‘you’re doing a great job - keep going’.

Get a plan

Have you ever thought ‘I don’t know where to start,' and in the end do nothing?  Even though living with pain is hard, without knowledge and support it can be very hard to live any other way. When you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed and in pain, it can be really hard to get started. Unfortunately we often stick with what we know. But, I’m sorry to report, you cannot magically arrive at “better health” station without putting in some work to determine how you will get there. Mapping out what techniques might be useful, what support you will need. Getting information and support to get you going will help you to keep moving forward. Our MoreGoodDays® program might be just the place to start. Check your suitability.

Accept where you are now

I spent many years wishing my situation (living with chronic back pain) was different. In the book Mindfulness for Health, Vidyamla Burch compares the different ways we relate to pain with the stages of grief. First comes denial in the early stages of diagnosis (‘this can’t be happening to me’) so you push through and ignore pain. Next is bargaining, and as outlined above that's when we try anything, always bargaining for a way towards ‘no pain’. In either of these stages, it can be difficult to take effective action towards managing your pain. But the final step is acceptance.

For me, realizing that pain was a part of my life and I had to step up and take responsibility for managing it so I could live well, was a major turning point. Turning towards and accepting my reality, enabled me to respond to my pain rather than constantly reacting to it. For this to happen, I needed to be aware of what was going on - in my body, heart and mind - and I did this with mindfulness. It’s really important to call out that accepting pain is not weak or a resignation. It is taking that wheel - taking responsibility for your actions and self managing your condition. That takes extreme strength and self-discipline.

Moving towards acceptance takes time and reflection and is not something that can be switched on overnight. With support and encouragement, you might learn to view your pain differently too. And lastly, accepting how things are doesn't mean accepting things will always be this way. There are some powerful words you can tack on to any sentence about your current state…RIGHT NOW! For example, I am able to only walk for 10 minutes…right now. I am only able to work from home...right now.

What else?

Perhaps something else is holding you back, something we haven't mentioned here. Could you make space to get curious about other aspects of your life. What about things going on in your family and work life? What about things in your past that may have influenced your beliefs about health and healing? We know stress and possibly history of trauma can play a role in your pain experience. What other things in your life might be holding you back?

Do you feel like some of these obstacles are getting in your way?

MoreGoodDays® understands this and we have developed tools and support to guide you through, to build your confidence, your understanding and most importantly, to make you feel comfortable and empowered sitting firmly in the driver's seat.

Take the Wheel: 9 Ways to Overcome Healing Obstacles & Regain Control

Table of contents

Take the Wheel: 9 Ways to Overcome Healing Obstacles & Regain Control

Have you ever thought ‘I know what I should be doing but I’m just not doing it?’ In this article, we look at some common obstacles that might be holding you back in your recovery efforts.

Interestingly, it can even be the things we do in trying to help ourselves that contribute to a cycle of pain. Taking an honest look into the things you do and don’t do can help identify how to start living well with chronic pain. And this can be a really important step to recovery because combating chronic pain isn’t about fixing something that’s damaged. It’s about setting the physical and emotional conditions that allow your body systems to recover and restore the balance.

And because of this, your recovery REALLY is about you. What you think and what you can do, not what someone else can do. So, are you ready to grab hold of that wheel and take control?

What are the obstacles to healing when you're in pain

Asking yourself questions such as ‘What’s within my control?’, ‘What information do I need?’ and ‘Who’s making the decisions?’ or ‘Who’s driving? is a good place to start. The latter being one of the most important when it comes to managing pain.

This list of recovery obstacles below is just for you, so grab a cuppa, get comfortable because, there's a good chance reading these might make you feel a bit uncomfortable if they sound familiar to you. But seriously, nothing that can't be overcome with a honest bit of self-reflection and courage. If you need support, we’re here to help. And, we realize there are also a number of obstacles in the form of access, affordability, and cultural barriers. We will address these in a separate article soon so please, stay tuned.

Let’s start with how NOT to take the wheel, that is letting someone or something else drive:

1. Letting ‘Worry’ drive

We are hard-wired to scan for danger and worry plays an important, evolutionary role in protecting us.  Worry is based on the future - a possible event or outcome. If you let your worries make all the decisions based on these ‘possibilities’, you may miss out. There are other emotions that can also take over such as shame, guilt, and anger. It's understandable they might pop up when you are dealing with the very frustrating and exhausting aspects of living with chronic pain, but they can also be extremely effective at stopping you from trying new things.

For me, I was worried I would ‘fail’ at pain management and that my pain would get worse. Both of these feelings held me back for many years. As I was learning some new pain management techniques, I had this voice constantly asking me ‘What if I can't handle it?’, ‘What if I am not strong enough to do it?’ The voice of worry stopped me from even trying. I would stagnate in procrastination, and eventually just fall back into familiar yet unhelpful habits.

Excessive worry also prevented me exercising because I was scared the pain would get worse. I had linked movement with pain (from years ago when I would hurt my back constantly playing my particularly ‘enthusiastic’ style of netball) and so I avoided it. Perhaps it might be useful to remember that your worry story is just one possible future outcome, so it can help to ask ‘what if I’m wrong?’. Would you be open to the idea of ‘confronting’ rather than ‘avoiding’ as a way of linking your thinking to your actions in your recovery pathways?

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” - Mark Twain

2. Letting ‘Pain’ drive

Do you judge all decisions on whether they will or won't hurt? Hopefully by now you have an idea that chronic pain does not equal physical damage. If you constantly let pain set the limits (thinking you’re going to cause more pain), there’s a good chance you might not try anything. Therefore, pain is not the best tool to determine what you can and can't do. When you start moving again and slowly build up your tolerance (using helpful techniques like pacing), it's likely that it will hurt, especially if you haven't been moving for a while and your muscles have lost their strength.

Is there a chance you could open up to the idea of being ‘anti-fragile’ and of becoming stronger? Remember, even a top athlete will feel sore the day after a tough workout, but that pain doesn't stop them getting back on track the next session. Using pre-determined activity and flare up plans to guide your activity is a much better approach. Being guided by pain sets up a whole set of cognitive (brain) and behavioral (things you do/don’t do) processes that impair recovery.

Instead sticking to a plan that respects pain, but doesn’t depend on it shifts the focus away from pain. This usually means using pacing and graded activity strategies (see pain management alternatives). It might sound strange and perhaps even subtle, but overtime this shift in focus from pain-guided activity, to pre-planned strategies, can make a remarkable difference. When I began using pacing and strengthening my body again I would tell myself ‘Just do it - you won't know until you try’.

3. Letting ‘The Cure’ drive

No, not the band, this obstacle is about the desperate search for that one thing. The clinician, that health guru, maybe it's the latest fad you read about. It is easy to get attached to the idea of a magic pill. That's the power of the placebo effect, we would all love to have something sweep in and take away the pain. It is possible to stay stuck in this state for a while, making deals and searching for cures, always bargaining for the ‘no pain’ grand prize.

I spent years waiting for a knight in shining armor (or maybe a white lab coat?) to sweep in with “the thing” that was going to sleigh the painful beast. I searched, I saw many, many people. I have figured out though, the best person in the driver's seat is me. I was giving up all my control and agency in this desperate search, and, in doing so, dismissing all the things I could do to help myself to avoid flare ups, mitigate pain and to truly offer myself some compassion and understanding.

In this search, I also continually reinforced the idea that I was broken and needed to be “fixed”. This did some damage to my self-esteem and became an unhelpful belief that spiraled over the years into deep feelings of unworthiness. Not only that but this fueled a relentless pursuit of pleasing, proving, and putting on a brave face. That's exhausting! And guess what, it made my pain worse too!. If ‘the cure’ is driving, then your destination is always set to ‘no pain’ land. So when you try something (a new exercise, or other pain treatment) and your pain flares or even just stays the same, you’ll consider it a failure and give up, right? And that's not going to help you progress.

4. ‘I can't change (otherwise known as no one’s driving)

If you believe you can’t change, or even that things will only worsen, then you reduce the chances of positive change. This is known as a fixed mindset, as opposed to growth mindset, where you believe that your ability or understanding and intelligence are fixed and cannot be changed. Growth vs fixed mindsets are based on the work of Carol Dweck and, if want to know more try her mindset book. Whether you realize it or not, you can change…..you can teach an old dog new tricks.

The body, brain and nervous system are always adapting and changing. But if YOU change nothing then, NOTHING WILL CHANGE. You could also think of it like hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Or again, like Henry Ford famously said “If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got". On the other hand, if you practice something new and challenging over and over then your body and nervous system will literally change to help you do that thing better. The trick here is this: you have to steer the change, by choosing what you do. And by taking hold of that wheel!

Knowledge is power

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How do you adapt to living with chronic pain

Now let’s look at how you can take the wheel, and when you are in the driver's seat:

Keep your eyes on the prize

When you worry, catastrophize, monitor symptoms, you are thinking about pain all the time. With this constant attention and often resistance, pain actually persists. So, what about wellness? What about the things you enjoy? Maybe it is better to consider where you want to go and start focusing on that.  This way you can identify the aspects of your life that you work towards. You can control what you eat, how you move and on where you place your attention. Maybe the prize is ease, joy, gratitude and if you focus on those things, you can make choices to help you get closer to them.

Replace your inner critic with your inner cheerleader

We all have that little voice. It's a part of you that is playing the protector, trying to keep you safe but it can also hold you back when you listen to it. It's the voice that says ‘nah, you can’t do that!’ and ‘you’re not good enough’ This voice always finds a reason why you are to blame. The inner critic also likes to generalize and use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’. ‘You’re always letting people down’, ‘You’ll never be able to [insert activity]’.

If you listen to this voice, it’s likely you'll be persuaded by it to put off starting something new. You can challenge that voice by questioning the truth of the statements. Or a great way to fact check is ask a trusted friend? You can also seek out your inner cheerleader? Can you listen to that voice? (And, this voice might be very soft to begin with!). The cheerleader says, ‘give it a try’, ‘you’re doing a great job - keep going’.

Get a plan

Have you ever thought ‘I don’t know where to start,' and in the end do nothing?  Even though living with pain is hard, without knowledge and support it can be very hard to live any other way. When you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed and in pain, it can be really hard to get started. Unfortunately we often stick with what we know. But, I’m sorry to report, you cannot magically arrive at “better health” station without putting in some work to determine how you will get there. Mapping out what techniques might be useful, what support you will need. Getting information and support to get you going will help you to keep moving forward. Our MoreGoodDays® program might be just the place to start. Check your suitability.

Accept where you are now

I spent many years wishing my situation (living with chronic back pain) was different. In the book Mindfulness for Health, Vidyamla Burch compares the different ways we relate to pain with the stages of grief. First comes denial in the early stages of diagnosis (‘this can’t be happening to me’) so you push through and ignore pain. Next is bargaining, and as outlined above that's when we try anything, always bargaining for a way towards ‘no pain’. In either of these stages, it can be difficult to take effective action towards managing your pain. But the final step is acceptance.

For me, realizing that pain was a part of my life and I had to step up and take responsibility for managing it so I could live well, was a major turning point. Turning towards and accepting my reality, enabled me to respond to my pain rather than constantly reacting to it. For this to happen, I needed to be aware of what was going on - in my body, heart and mind - and I did this with mindfulness. It’s really important to call out that accepting pain is not weak or a resignation. It is taking that wheel - taking responsibility for your actions and self managing your condition. That takes extreme strength and self-discipline.

Moving towards acceptance takes time and reflection and is not something that can be switched on overnight. With support and encouragement, you might learn to view your pain differently too. And lastly, accepting how things are doesn't mean accepting things will always be this way. There are some powerful words you can tack on to any sentence about your current state…RIGHT NOW! For example, I am able to only walk for 10 minutes…right now. I am only able to work from home...right now.

What else?

Perhaps something else is holding you back, something we haven't mentioned here. Could you make space to get curious about other aspects of your life. What about things going on in your family and work life? What about things in your past that may have influenced your beliefs about health and healing? We know stress and possibly history of trauma can play a role in your pain experience. What other things in your life might be holding you back?

Do you feel like some of these obstacles are getting in your way?

MoreGoodDays® understands this and we have developed tools and support to guide you through, to build your confidence, your understanding and most importantly, to make you feel comfortable and empowered sitting firmly in the driver's seat.