Techniques to Help Veterans Minimize Chronic Pain

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Dealing with chronic pain can be quite a . . . pain.  Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts longer than 6 months, chronic pain can be moderate or unbearable; episodic or continuous. Of course, whether due to past injuries, strain from overuse, or just general wear and tear, chronic pain is common amongst military Veterans.

Caregiver for Veteran with PTSD

On days when the pain is debilitating, you may not want to get out of bed. It may seem as though you are fighting a losing battle against the pain, but your quality of life can be restored. More importantly, it can be done without having to rely on opioids for relief. Here are a few tips on what you can do to minimize chronic pain.

Biofeedback Therapy for Chronic Pain

Biofeedback is a relaxation technique in which patients use their mind to control body functions that normally occur without fail. Participating in a biofeedback therapy session can give you the skills to lessen your pain at home. In a session, sensors will be attached to your body, then connected to a monitoring device. The device will measure your body functions such as breathing, perspiration, skin temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. As you relax during therapy, your breathing slows and your heart rate will dip. As the numbers on the monitor begin to reflect your relaxed state, you will start to learn how to consciously control your body functions. Through biofeedback therapy, you will learn how to use your mind to overcome bouts of pain.

How to Reduce Inflammation for Chronic Pain

It’s no secret that chronic pain and inflammation go hand-in-hand. Inflammation is a normal immune response in  your body that usually alerts you when something is wrong. Pain, swelling and redness are all forms of inflammation that is needed to help with the healing process. Inflammation becomes an issue when it becomes chronic, and the initial healing process fails, which causes pain. Fortunately you can reduce chronic pain and inflammation by consuming a healthy diet. Certain foods can cause flare ups, therefore they need to be reduced or eliminated. Those foods include dairy products, fried food, refined flour, sugar, high-fat red meat and all processed foods. The proper diet should be rich in leafy-green vegetables, low-sugar fruits and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Exercise Regularly to Reduce Chronic Pain

Exercise is actually one of the best ways to reduce chronic pain. The less you move, the more pain you are likely to feel. The endorphins that are released during exercise are natural painkillers that increase your tolerance by changing how your body responds to pain. Routine exercise can help you reduce your medicine intake, increase your happiness and return your zest for life. If you find it difficult to move fluidly during exercise, start by walking a few times a week, then gradually increase your efforts.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

Naturally, you’ll want to do everything you can to maintain your independence, but know that it is more than ok to need help. Overdoing it in areas where you shouldn’t will only worsen your pain, causing you more stress and unhappiness. Figure out areas of your life where you could use some help and then see who might be able to provide it.

For example, keeping your house clean may be especially difficult when your pain is at its worst. Consider asking a family member to help you with cleaning once a week or if you have the resources, hire a housekeeper. Yard work can be another troublesome area for people with chronic pain. Chances are you can find a tween or teen in your neighborhood who would be more than happy to pick up leaves in your yard or mow it once every couple of weeks for a few extra bucks. Just having this little bit of extra help can make a world of difference.

Find Support

Chronic pain can be very isolating and it may seem as though no one in your immediate circle understands your frustration. Participating in a support group, such as those provided by the ACPA and its sister organization Veterans in Pain, will provide a safe haven for you and allow you the opportunity to vent. Those that suffer with chronic pain tend to see themselves in a negative light. Thinking negatively of yourself can lead to depression and more painful flare-ups. If you find that the group setting is not helping you solve your issues, consider reaching out to a therapist. Never be ashamed or prideful to ask for help –it just may save your life.

When you are in pain, it can be hard to find the motivation to do anything. Feelings of anger and resentment toward your body are to be expected, but it is important that you push forward. Chronic pain is a condition that can be successfully managed as long as you treat it with self-love and patience. Use these tips as a blueprint to help you combat chronic pain and start living your best life!

Guest Contributor, Constance Ray
Recovery Well

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Service Dogs: Helping Some Veterans Cope with PTSD

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Service Dogs for PTSD

Photo via Pixabay by Skeeze

Soldiers returning from deployment sometimes bring the trauma of war home with them. Being injured themselves or witnessing others injured or dying, can have lasting physical and emotional effects on our military men and women. Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can surface immediately or take years to appear. These symptoms can include sleeplessness, recurring nightmares or memories, anger, fear, feeling numb, and suicidal thoughts. These symptoms can be alleviated with medications and/or by the use of service dogs.

Service Dogs for Veterans and What They Do

A service dog is one that is trained to specifically perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric, or intellectual disability. Service dogs meant specifically for PTSD therapy, provide many benefits to their veteran companions. These dogs provide emotional support, unconditional love, and a partner that has the veteran’s back. Panic attacks, flashbacks, depression, and stress subside. Many vets get better sleep knowing their dog is standing watch through the night for them.

Taking an active role in training and giving the dog positive feedback can help the veteran have purpose and goals. They see that they are having a positive impact and receiving unconditional love from the dog in return. The dog can also be the veteran’s reason to move around, get some exercise, or leave the house.

Bonding with the dogs has been found to have biological effects elevating levels of oxytocin, which helps overcome paranoia, improves trust, and other important social abilities to alleviate some PTSD symptoms. When the dogs help vets feel safe and protected, anxiety levels, feelings of depression, drug use, violence, and suicidal thoughts decrease.

Service dogs can also reduce medical and psychiatric costs when used as an alternative to drug therapy. Reducing bills will reduce stress on the veteran and their family.

Impact of Service Dogs on Veterans with PTSD

These dogs offer non-stop unconditional love. When military personnel return to civilian life adjustment can be difficult, and sometimes the skills that they have acquired in the field are not the skills they can put toward a career back home. A dog will show them the same respect no matter what job they do, and that can be extremely comforting.

Service dogs can also foster a feeling of safety and trust in veterans. After going through particular experiences overseas, it may be difficult for veterans to trust their environment and feel completely safe. Dogs can offer a stable routine, be vigilant through the night (so the vet doesn’t have to), and be ever faithful and trustworthy.

Veterans sometimes have difficulty with relationships after departing the military because they are accustomed to giving and receiving orders. Dogs respond well to authority and don’t mind taking orders. The flip side is that by taking care of the dog’s needs, the veteran can also get used to recognizing and responding to the needs of others.

Service Dogs are also protective. They will be by the veteran’s side whenever needed and have their back like their buddies did on the battlefield. They will provide security and calm without judgment. The dog will not mind if you’ve had a bad day and be there to help heal emotional wounds. For this reason, PTSD service dogs are also a great help to veterans suffering from substance abuse disorders.

In an article by Mark Thompson called “What a Dog Can Do for PTSD”, an Army vet named Luis Carlos Montalvan was quoted as saying, “But for all veterans, I think, the companionship and unwavering support mean the most. So many veterans are isolated and withdrawn when they return. A dog is a way to reconnect, without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.

Check out the Department of Veteran’s Affairs for information on the VA’s service dog program by CLICKING HERE.

Here are a few of the dozens of programs to help if you are a vet or know one who could benefit from a service dog:

PawsandStripes.org

OperationWeAreHere.com

PawsForVeterans.com

SoldiersBestFriend.org

TenderLovingCanines.org

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Suggestions for Veterans to Maintain a Stress- and Relapse-Free New Year

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The holiday season and New Year’s bring many stressful situations that can be difficult to handle, especially for veterans who are recovering addicts or those suffering from another mental health disorder.

stress free holiday for VeteransOld triggers, family encounters, large parties, or loneliness can be enough to push a veteran with an addiction toward a relapse. With a healthy game plan, you can get through the holiday season with your sobriety intact and make it a positive experience. The first step is to avoid situations which may increase stress to insure that you can enjoy the holidays with friends and family. But of course, this time of year that can be easier said than done. Whether you are trying to avoid family conflict or struggling with substance abuse, veterans may benefit from these simple suggestions:

One Day at a Time for A Stress Free Holiday 

Focus on today when you wake up each morning and how you want to stay sober. Think about what types of environments you need to navigate and make plans to handle those specific situations. Tell yourself that you can resist any temptations and will stay sober.

Start by taking care of your body, eating regular healthy meals, and getting in exercise whenever possible. This will keep your body’s blood sugar regulated, boost mood and confidence, help you avoid irritability, and resist impulses.

Have realistic expectations for the holidays. Expecting everything to run perfectly can set you up for an emotional let down. You can only control yourself, so focus on maintaining your sobriety when confronted with hostile or emotional situations.

Family Events and Parties

Attending family get-togethers and holiday parties can be stressful. Know which situations or people might set off your triggers and avoid them. Arrive early so that you can leave earlier, if needed. Drive yourself if you might need an easy way to leave when you want to. Time spent with people that do not respect your boundaries or elicit temptation should be limited or avoided altogether depending on your level of recovery.

Holiday food and drinks may have unwanted alcohol in their recipes. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, being handed drinks or desserts with alcohol in them could trigger relapse. Make your own snacks and drinks to bring with you to parties. Having your own preferred drink or snack in hand will help avoid the possibility of being handed things you will need to decline.

Have a few simple responses ready for awkward questions from relatives regarding your recovery. Do not feel the need to go into long explanations, or to answer every single question. Change the subject or let them know that you have some other things to do.

Help plan activities instead of just sitting around and drinking. Suggest some board games, sporting events, holiday movies, or building a snowman. Keeping yourself busy will nix cravings, alleviate stress, and help you steal some joy from the holidays.

Handling Stress or Cravings

When stress and cravings start to creep up on you, take a minute to remind yourself why sobriety is better and healthier for you. Recognize possible triggers and move to a different spot or find someone you trust to strike up a conversation with. You can also find someone to help with tasks that they need done, or find a game or activity to do.

Support systems are especially helpful and important during this time of year. Call a trusted friend, family member, or sponsor to talk with when feeling stressed. Attending extra AA or NA meetings during the holidays can give you extra confidence to get through the holiday season. Plan ahead to find meetings even if you will be in another city for the holidays.

Give Back to Others

Many just like you are battling temptations of relapse during this time of year. Make an effort to reach out and help other recovering addicts by attending parties with them to further their sobriety. Reaching out to others during the holidays can have a healing effect on you just as much as them. It can make you more confident in your own sobriety.

Selfless acts remind you of the things for which you can be grateful. Positive interactions will bring love and joy back into your life, and remind you that you can successfully avoid relapse and have a joyful holiday season.

Constance enjoys sharing stories of hope with those feeling lost, and encourages them to believe that there is a healthy, fulfilling life on the other side of whatever path they’re currently traveling.

Photo by BookBabe

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