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Be Happy (and ditch the pain)

I recently came across an article that caught my attention on the link between pain and external factors that cause it.

In the recent past, I would often wake up and my first thought (more often than not) was “my knees ache”. Again. And while an ache or two is not unusual for a fifty-something this seemed to be a regular occurrence. Usually, I would then reach for the paracetamol. On one occasion though, I decided to think about why they hurt. I hadn’t done anything overly energetic the day before. I hadn’t tripped over the cat. I hadn’t fallen. Nothing at all to cause pain. So why did they hurt?

You may experience something similar. A good friend of mine regularly suffers from back pain. My partner often experiences increased pain from the arthritic joints. In short – it's not unusual to experience pain. And most of us put up with some pain as an inconvenience and put it down to one of the unenviable consequences of aging. It comes with the territory of being a fabulous fifty-something. And let’s be clear what pain we are talking about. It's not a sharp, sudden onset of pain. If you experience that then you should seek medical help. It is a lower level, nagging pain that seems to come and go.

Thinking back, I realised that when I felt stressed, overwhelmed, or overtired I seemed to develop physical pain, usually in my knees. And when I started recognising my mental stress, I realised that my body was reacting physically. It was like my body was sending me a signal that something was wrong and that a change was needed.

Managing our stress is becoming increasingly important. Some of us may do this unknowingly and detrimentally to our health. We grind our teeth causing pain. We experience headaches. We comfort-eat sugary foods. It is now known; sugar can worsen inflamed joints and thus cause pain. The point here is that our bodies are physically reacting to stress. Treating the pain with tablets may provide short-term relief, but it is not treating the cause of the pain.

And indeed, it is well established that physical pain results from stress, fatigue, and fear. The fatigue that comes from doing things every day that we don’t like doing – like a job we hate. Fear of doing something, taking a risk, or needing to make a decision. Not convinced? I am one of those people who gets bad stomach pain before speaking in public. It comes from the fear of what others will think of me, or of making a mistake or looking silly. There is a link between pain and stress. And while we may tell ourselves differently our bodies communicate that something needs attending to by sending us that signal – pain.

This is something that Pain Management Doctors are beginning to understand and increasingly offer chronic pain sufferers psychological support rather than pure medical answers. Dr. Abdul Ghalliq-Lalkhen lays out some convincing reasoning in the article that caught my eye.

I realised that my pain was a signal that there was something in my life that needed addressing. My knee pain was related to an unbalanced lifestyle. Working in a job I didn’t like with people who didn’t like me. Pain flare-ups were regular.

So back to a few years ago. I investigated why my knees hurt. A colleague of mine, a really good life coach, talked me through what might be happening. He took the approach that I know myself best, but he helped me look at myself to identify what was going on. It took talking it through with someone else to realise that the pain in my knees was related to my fear of “putting it out there”. Being judged by others. Or pushing myself forward. But also working in an environment that didn’t suit me was making me ill. Since then, I changed my job, started a business, and rebalanced my lifestyle. I’m glad to say that painful knees have become less frequent even though I have been working on launching my new business and being well out of my comfort zone!

They still hurt from time to time, especially when deadlines are approaching or if I have to fulfil a public speaking role. But now I am ready for them and know better how to manage the pain. I train myself every day to learn new things, build my confidence, and maintain a better work life balance. I learned to listen to my body – to make the changes that made me happier.

My motivation now is to help people over 50, like myself, with similar issues. Stress, wondering what to do next, change; these are all things that we must deal with. Some of us experience those painful flare-ups as well. I’m now a life coach and firmly believe that the life coaching offer can really help if you are in your fifties and looking for your way forward.

The process of thinking about ourselves and deciding what we want for our third quarter future, (what we can do, what we want to do, and what we can no longer do), can be difficult. I know, I have gone through it and am still working on it. It can be even harder to do when we are faced with stress and anxiety that can be caused by financial insecurity or work. How can we invest in ourselves when we feel we need to put others first? It seems much easier simply to carry on as we are, not thinking about the future. But our bodies know better and the tablets for the pain will not tackle the issues we must face. I found that it really helps to talk to someone else, like a life coach. It could help you too. And I am here to help.

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