Asking for help when you have chronic pain

Good communication skills are important for everyone involved in dealing with chronic pain.

Offering to help others when they don’t feel well is generally a part of our lives. Most of us are willing to help others, and many times will stop everything we are doing to help a friend in need. On the other hand, many of us won’t want to ask for help ourselves when we are the ones under the weather.

Many times friends and family want to help people with chronic pain. Although these people care for you and your well-being, sometimes their good intentions are not that helpful. If you can do something for yourself you probably will feel better by accomplishing a specific activity: even if it takes a little longer you will have the satisfaction of having completed it independently. We all want to be independent for as long as we can: but it is also important to know when to accept help.

When those that care about you ask what they can do, instead of not answering at all, have some things in mind. If you are still able to get the garbage together but just not able to carry the heavy bags. Perhaps someone can help carry heavy bags of garbage to the end of the driveway? Another idea would be to invite a friend or loved one to take a walk with you once a week. Sometimes companionship is more worthwhile than people doing things for you!

Let’s think about the flip side. How do you handle being the one who receives numerous requests for help? This may happen often and your friends and loved ones may assume you will always say just say. “yes.”

Asking them to restate the favor may clarify the request before you commit to it. You do not want to agree to a request that you cannot follow through with.  An example could be agreeing to help someone moving without fully considering that moving entails lots of different steps and degrees. Understand the expectations before you commit. 

Saying “no” is a good self-management tool for all of us to practice so we don’t become overwhelmed. It can help us feel better and maintain our friendships. Listening is probably the most important communication skill in managing your commitments to help or be helped.

Being a good listener involves the following:

  • Observe body language and listen to the tone of the voice. Is there body tension or is the person struggling with the words? Observe the facial expression. Perhaps the speaker has more on their mind then they are asking for.
  • Repeat what you heard to the person talking to you. If the person talking to you is ill sometimes just knowing someone is listening is more than enough.
  • Let the person know you are hearing both the content and emotions behind what they are saying. When you respond to someone for content and emotion, they usually feel more comfortable and are able to continue to speak.
  • Respond by asking for more information. Just by saying, “I don’t quite understand, would you mind repeating that?” will help the person to be clearer and let them know you are listening to them.

By practicing good communication skills, whether you are the one in pain or the one helping out you will feel better about your requests and responses as the expectations will be clearer for everyone involved.

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