Hiking is Thriving!
Living with pain is challenging on many levels. I posted the video about how addictions are based in avoidance of pain. This feels true on many levels including physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain. Pain is a universal experience and by its nature is one that we tend to want to runaway from. Pain is the signal that something is wrong or dangerous. We go into survival mode. This is a beneficial pain. “Get out of this situation!” Adrenaline coarses through our bodies and enables us to react.
We all have experienced pain on one level or another. We get out of the relationship (or not) or we remove our hand from the hot stove. But when the pain is chronic and does not go away after leaving the situation, there are new skills and coping mechanismsthat need to be developed in order to move from suffering to thriving.
This month I am turning 50 and I am consciously looking back at my life. I was healthy and pain-free for most of my life in the physical sense. I know that when I began to drink in high school, it was to avoid the pain of depression and anxiety. It was a coping mechanism. I was fortunate to understand alcoholism and I stopped drinking soon after it was legal for me to drink. (I’ll save that for another post!)
Today, I want to share different kinds of coping mechanismsto help with pain. There are two main types, the first are ways to actively relieve or treat pain and the second is to avoid things. Actively engaging in a behavior that is meant to relieve or treat the pain can be anything from exercise, taking medication, stretching or putting on ointments, ice, and/or moist heat. It takes you actively engaging in your self-care. When you are avoiding things that can mean anything from avoiding activities that hurt or make the pain worse, using adaptive approaches to activities of daily living, or resting.
Actively engaging takes energy and focus. Getting energy and focus can be difficult when you are living with the fatigue and exhaustion of pain. There are two ways that I would like to talk about that support gaining energy and focus. The first is pacing and the second is having a plan.
Pacing is what allows you to do what you want to, or need to do without overdoing it. It can be a fine line or razors edge to balance for people who have chronic pain. Finding the right pace takes patience, awareness, and persistence: patience because it takes trial and error to discover a good pace, awareness because optimal pacing changes with many factors that are not static, and persistence because it takes time to be able to develop awareness and to listen to your body. The awareness and listening to your body goes beyond what is happening in any moment. This is because most chronic pain conditions have a delay in consequences.
For instance, I can have a rebound effect from bodywork that might feel fine at the time but later results in a deep ache and a new turn in the cycle of pain. Or a stretching session that felt fine at the time–meaning I worked slowly and didn’t go further than I thought I could handle, but results in spasms the next day or two and a new turn of the cycle of pain. So body awareness is more than just being aware in the moment, it is also about being aware of effects and connections over time. I know for myself I need to change my pacing depending on different variables including my flexibility, my quality of sleep, and the plan for the whole day.
This summer I have made it my goal to be able to do hikes to get out in nature and enjoy the weather. It was important for me to notice the difference between walking on a level surface and doing any elevation change. A one mile walk on a level surface is different than a 1 mile walk with an elevation change of the 800 feet or on rocks or sand. In order to be able to do hikes here in the Northwest, I need to be able to do some elevation change. I have been able to hike almost every weekend this summer the last think I did was 7.1 mile hike with a 1100’ elevation gain which was by far my favorite. It took us six hours to hike it through beautiful terrain. We stopped for lunch at the Waterfall and took other rest stops along the way. It was about 5 hours of walking.
In order to be able to do accomplish my goal of hiking I had to develop a plan. A good plan begins with the end in mind. I had a vision; the vision of myself being able to do a hike on the Cascade Head by the end of summer in a way that did not leave me exhausted and in more pain. The plan included learning to pace myself and to actively communicate this to my hiking companions. I learned to listen to my body to gauge pacing so that I could stop and rest when I needed (I hike with friends so I needed to have a way to let them know and to take the time I needed to rest and set a comfortable but challenging pace) and to keep going and increase the difficulties of hikes throughout the summer. I needed to be able to increase my stamina and get my legs better shape while taking care of my lower back.
I walked almost every day around my neighborhood, stretched to increase flexibility, and continued habits of eating healthy. All of this took active steps. I had to be motivated, to believe that it was possible, and to take action. I also had to forgive myself and/or to be patient with myself when I couldn’t or didn’t follow through. (Some days after the hikes I was so exhausted that I couldn’t do my walking.)
I’ve done more hikes this summer and have seen more of the beauty around Portland Oregon than I have in the last decade. This is what I call Thriving! What would thriving look like to you?