The goal of pain management is to increase function, improve quality of life and reduce one’s sense of suffering. The American Chronic Pain Association uses relaxation techniques as one of the necessary coping skills for dealing with pain. But when you are in a great deal of pain, it is difficult to relax.

Redirecting Your Thoughts

Relaxation, in part, is redirecting your thoughts off of your pain and on to something else that you enjoy. But, redirecting your thoughts can be difficult. Take a moment and say your alphabet and, at exactly the same time, count from 1 to 25. Give it a try; you might be surprised at the results. You see, you cannot do it. Why? Because we have a one-track mind. While we are thinking A, B, C, we cannot be thinking 1, 2, 3. So, during the time that you are trying very hard to accomplish this task you were not focused on your pain thus you reduced your sense of suffering, one of the goals of pain management.

With practice, you can redirect your thoughts off of your pain and on to other things. One way to do this is to try ‘purposeful activities’ or, simply put, enjoyable activities. They can help you to focus your attention on things other than your pain levels.

My Favorite Things

As children, we never really thought too much about playing. It was a natural thing all kids did. And, when we knew how to play, it didn’t take much to make us happy. However, somewhere along the years we often lose that ability to play, to use the simple things in life to entertain ourselves. Can you remember the last time you actually played? The last time you did something so simple yet so satisfying that you found you were lost in the activity.

Below you will find some suggestions for purposeful activities that you might want to try.

  • Play dough or clay
  • Coloring book
  • Jigsaw, word, and math puzzles
  • Board and card games with friends or family
  • Listening to music and singing along
  • Simple crafts
  • Easy gardening (e.g. a herb garden on the kitchen counter that can be used for cooking)
  • Painting by numbers
  • Simple woodworking projects

More Ideas

For more art project suggestions, words of encouragement, and information regarding music therapy, you can download the ACPA Art of Pain Management. You could also try our five-minute relaxation exercise video to help you relax.

If you use your imagination you can discover many other ways to play and enjoy the simple things in life that just might help you reduce your sense of suffering, if only for a little while. As you incorporate these activities into your daily life, you might begin to feel you have some control, if only a little, over your pain as you redirect your attention on to things that you enjoy. It can help if you allow it.