Sometimes Patty doesn't know whether to laugh or cry when one of her three kids runs at her for a flying hug. She loves the affection, but picking up her kids all the time is one reason the 33-year-old third-grade teacher has back pain. She tries to smile and gently remind her kids to hug mommy with their feet on the ground.
Patty feels pretty good most days, even with back pain that comes and goes. "I've learned over the last few years to try to focus on what I can do. I'm lucky that my pain is just nagging, not debilitating. But still, it can make me really cranky with my kids at home and with my kids at school."
Patty did some reading on the mind-body connection. She learned that the things she tells herself about what's going on in her life and how she feels about it can make her pain worse—or better. "So I really work at finding the good things in my day. It helps me get through the day, and I think it makes my pain not bother me as much," she says.
Stopping negative thoughts to reduce pain
She walks a lot, swims, and does exercises for her back. And she now sits next to her kids when they want a hug. But Patty also works at thinking in a positive way.
"I used to feel so discouraged whenever my back would hurt again," Patty says. "I would tell myself that it was never going to get better."
She learned to notice when she had those negative thoughts. "I would catch myself thinking, 'Why do I bother exercising? The pain is just going to come back.' But instead of keeping on that train of thought, I would say to myself, 'Exercise has helped my back before. I know it will make my back stronger if I stick with it.'"
"I started keeping a "pain diary." I write down when my pain is bad. I also write down what helps and what doesn't, and a quick note about how I'm feeling.
"I also started using something my counselor told me about. Whenever I start thinking negative thoughts, I close my eyes, then picture my mind as a sky and my thoughts as clouds. When a negative thought comes up, instead of fighting with it or trying to stop it, I just note that it has come into mind. I don't judge it as good or bad, or that it will last forever, because it is just a thought. And like passing clouds in the sky, my negative thoughts will also move along. It's funny, but by accepting the thoughts as they are and not judging them, they lose their power and allow me to let go of them more easily. This method works better some days than others—it depends on how stressed I am about other things, but most of the time, it really does help.
"This, plus keeping my pain diary, has really helped me to feel more in control."
This story is based on information gathered from many people facing this health issue.