Don't Let Chronic Pain Result in Social Isolation

People connect with friends and family through social activities and community events, sports and family gatherings. When it hurts to be active, however, it's hard to stay connected. Friendships slip away and family members burn out. Chronic pain has a huge impact on people's social lives and often leaves them isolated, lonely and feeling socially rejected. Whether the person in pain is you or a loved one, we've got tips for staying connected.

If This Sounds Like You...

It's easy to feel alone and misunderstood when you live with chronic pain. It's also understandable if you don't feel like being social. Chronic pain actually changes the way your brain and body work together and frequently causes depression, anxiety, grief, fatigue, and loneliness.  New studies reveal that social isolation and feelings of rejection also translate to real physical feelings of pain. It's a catch-22 that you have to take control of.  What can you do? 

  • Talk to your doctor. If you aren't receiving proper medical support, you may not be getting readily available pain relief. Getting the right medications and therapies can make all the difference in your lifestyle and social life.
  • Get support. Make sure your family and friends understand you're dealing with a medical condition, but don't make them your only support system. No matter how sympathetic they are, it's impossible for someone who hasn't "been there" to really get what you're going through. Investigate support groups and therapists who specialize in your medical condition.
  • Don't get stuck being sick. Don't let your health condition take center stage in all your activities and relationships. Limit the time you spend talking about your condition and engaging in activities that are focused on illness. Cultivate hobbies, activities and friendships that support the healthy part of you.
  • Just do it. Commit to staying connected with friends and family regularly and don't let yourself off the hook unless you're really unwell. Sometimes getting out the door is the hardest part. Once you're engaged in an activity, you may find it fun. Try to:
           - Schedule regular coffee dates
           - Volunteer at church functions or community organizations
           - Sign up for classes at a community center
  • Exercise. Hit two birds with one stone and join an exercise class. You'll feel better physically and connect with other people. Choose classes like yoga, designed for your age group and abilities.
  • Be a cheerleader. If you can't play sports or take part in another activity, sit on the sidelines and support your friends.
  • Go online. The Internet makes keeps you connected even when you need to stay home. Some outlets include:
          - Join online support groups. 
          - Join Facebook or other social networking sites
          - Stay in touch through email.

If It's a Loved One...

Staying close to someone with chronic pain is no easy feat. They can be irritable, tired, depressed, anxious and clingy.  That can wear down even the most supportive person. How can you help without burning out?

  • Insist your family member gets medical and psychological support.
  • Consider joining a support group. Having a network that truly understands can be a lifesaver.
  • Don't lose sight of your own life. Stay connected to your other friends, family and priorities.
  • Set reasonable limits so your "painful friend" knows when to lean on someone else.
  • Ask your family member for appropriate help and support when you need it. Despite their pain, they still have valuable insights and contributions to make to your relationship.