A soccer field isn't the first place you'd look for a woman suffering from intense, debilitating, chronic back pain, but that was where Jan, a 45-year-old mom from Boulder, Colo., went to get away from her pain. Coaching her son's soccer team took her out of herself and away from her pain. "I couldn't even kick the ball. I'd tell them what to do without being able to demonstrate," says Jan. "But it was good for me because it was a distraction. You want to do stuff and be active and be with your kids to distract yourself."
Another approach is to set small but important goals, says Gabriel Tan, PhD, a pain psychologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Houston. One of Tan's patients with severe back pain found some relief in surgery and medication, but the remaining pain was still being compounded by his inability to do the things he enjoyed doing.
Make time for yourself
Working in some fun is often not a high priority for people with chronic pain. But that's a tactical mistake, says Keefe, who teaches chronic pain coping skills. Keefe finds that pain patients often eliminate pleasant things, strip their lives down to boring obligations, and accept few distractions.
People who live with chronic pain can also fall victim to personal isolation. Amanda, 39, of Manchester, N.H., makes a point to reach out whenever she has a severe migraine attack. "Just finding someone to listen to you for a few minutes," she says, "you can get relief from that."