Pain Companion: How to Live Better With Nerve Pain

By Sarah Anne Shockley, Columnist

I’ve lived with severe nerve pain for the past eight years and have, through trial and error, found simple ways to help reduce and quiet it down on a daily basis. 

Some of these methods may be obvious if you already live with nerve pain. I include them all here because I know that it certainly would have served me well to have had this information early on, instead of having to work it all out for myself.

The first thing I learned was to think about my situation differently. For a long time, I thought about my nerve pain as its own thing, separate from me. It was something I didn’t want to have around, as if it was its own entity. It was me against the pain.

I’ve come to understand that my nerve pain is an aspect of my body, and possibly myself, that is so raw, so irritated, so sensitive and so volatile that it does not serve to try to make it get better.

My nerves in pain don’t want to be poked or prodded or touched or manipulated into wellness. Even alternative treatments seem like too much to handle. I am a strong believer in acupuncture, but the idea of needles when my nerves are already screaming is not something I want to contemplate. Sometimes even light massage is too much.

When I began to accept the pain as part of my whole life experience, not something that could be extracted or aimed at and annihilated, I began to see that my approach to easing it was going to have to be much more holistic.

I found the best way to do that was to work with creating more well-being in the body around the nerve pain. 

Often, I found that trying to deal directly with my nerve pain actually made it worse, but this indirect approach, over time, was much more effective in helping to ease it.

Here are some methods to help the body feel the best it can around the pain:

Relax and de-stress as much as possible. Limit interaction with things that would normally “get on your nerves,” such as stressful situations, toxic people, crowded stores, and rush hour traffic.

Stay on an anti-inflammatory diet and try to avoid inflammatory situations that activate fright, tension, or adrenaline rushes, such as argumentative people or being argumentative yourself.

Get more rest and sleep by staying calm. Make doing less a priority. You might use herbal teas, such as chamomile, to help with sleep or read yourself to sleep while listen to relaxing music. Avoid staying up late on the internet.

Choose activities that not only suit your physical limitations, but also soothe the mind and soul, such as meditation, listening to beautiful music, singing, walking in nature, talking with loved ones, and reading inspiring words.

Spend time every day in nature walking and focusing your attention on the soothing feeling of the air on the skin, the breeze, the sunlight, and the sound of birds. Bare feet on the ground or in sand can be exquisitely soothing to the nerves.

Take long soaks in bath salts or products using aromatherapy. Let your body relax into the warmth and the delicious smells.

Keep moving in any way you can that doesn’t exacerbate the pain. It’s important to keep the blood and oxygen flowing to keep your muscles from stiffening up and adding to the pain. Stagnant blood and stagnant energy do not help you heal.

Aside from helping your body feel better physically, I also recommend taking care of yourself emotionally.  Here are some pointers:

Find the little pleasures and things you enjoy and appreciate. Don’t wait for the pain to leave before you enjoy yourself and your life. Find the places that don’t hurt and revel in them. If there aren’t any, look beyond your body and find the things you can take pleasure in around you, including nature, the creative arts, the community, and your family.

Don’t try to turn your life off to avoid feeling pain. Don’t close down your ability to laugh or have fun. This is still your life. It is the only one you have. Make the most of it, even if you have to include pain in the equation. Just let it be there. Even invite it along.

Be kinder to yourself. Create a self-love routine around taking care of your body and your emotions. Wash yourself with soothing hands. Buy things that have soothing smells, not sharp chemical odors. Indulge your need for more softness and kindness in your life. Wear clothes that feel soft against your skin. Talk to yourself using soothing words. Give yourself a break more often.

Finally, consider making friends with your painful nerves. Talk to them kindly. Tell them it’s safe to calm down.  Tell them that you’re paying attention to your body and you’re doing the best you can to heal.

Let them know that you hear them, you honor them and you respect what they have to say to you through the pain. Understand that they are in alarm mode right now, but you have heard them, and it’s okay to tone it down a little. It’s okay to let their message be carried to you a little more softly, a little more quietly.

I think one of the tricks to working with nerve pain is to understand that we have one central nervous system that lives throughout the body. Even if we are feeling nerve pain mostly in the face, neck or hands, it relates to and affects the entire nervous system and therefore the entire body.

I believe we can positively affect nerve pain in any part of the body by treating the whole body with calming, soothing, relaxing, and restoring activities and approaches. I’ve found that they work.  And anything we can do to bring the pain down a notch or two is well worth it.

Sarah Anne Shockley suffers from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a painful condition that affects the nerves and arteries in the upper chest. Sarah is the author of The Pain Companion: Everyday Wisdom for Living With and Moving Beyond Chronic Pain.

 Sarah also writes for her blog, The Pain Companion.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.