Managing & Coping with Neuropathy
What predicts depression and anxiety among people with PN? Not necessarily the severity of the PN symptoms! The predictors are the psychological variables (i.e.: How do you feel? Hopeless, optimistic, anxious, etc.); social variables (i.e.: Are you active? Do you have support?) All of these variables can be changed!
Dwelling on what might have been if you were not diagnosed, self-pitying, ruminating about better times, and think of yourself primarily as a “PN patient” does not provide the escape from stress of the illness. These coping strategies are ineffective and can make your neuropathy symptoms worse.
Below are effective Self-Care and Coping Skills:
Managing Peripheral Neuropathy
The following suggestions can help you manage peripheral neuropathy:
Take care of your feet, especially if you have diabetes. Check your feet daily for signs of blisters, cuts or calluses. Tight shoes and socks can worsen pain and tingling and may lead to sores that won’t heal. Wear soft, loose cotton socks and padded shoes. You can use a semicircular hoop, which is available in medical supply stores, to keep bed covers off hot or sensitive feet.
Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking can affect circulation, increasing the risk of foot problems and possibly amputation.
Eat healthy meals. If you’re at high risk of neuropathy or have a chronic medical condition, healthy eating is especially important. Emphasize low-fat meats and dairy products and include lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Drink alcohol in moderation.
Massage. Massage your hands and feet, or have someone massage them for you. Massage helps improve circulation, stimulates nerves and may temporarily relieve pain.
Avoid prolonged pressure. Don’t keep your knees crossed or lean on your elbows for long periods of time. Doing so may cause new nerve damage.
Skills for Coping With Peripheral Neuropathy
Living with chronic pain or disability presents daily challenges. Some of these suggestions may make it easier for you to cope:
Set priorities. Decide which tasks you need to do on a given day, such as paying bills or shopping for groceries, and which can wait until another time. Stay active, but don’t overdo.
Acceptance & Acknowledgement. Accept and acknowledge the negative aspects of the illness, but then move forward to become more positive to find what works best for you.
Find the positive aspects of the disorder. Of course you are thinking there is nothing positive about PN. Perhaps your outlook can help increase empathy, encourage you to maintain a balanced schedule or maintaining a healthier lifestyle.
Get out of the house. When you have severe pain, it’s natural to want to be alone. But this only makes it easier to focus on your pain. Instead, visit a friend, go to a movie or take a walk.
Get moving. Develop an exercise program that works for you to maintain your optimum fitness. It gives you something you can control, and provides so many benefits to your physical and emotional well-being.
Seek and accept support. It isn’t a sign of weakness to ask for or accept help when you need it. In addition to support from family and friends, consider joining a chronic pain support group. Although support groups aren’t for everyone, they can be good places to hear about coping techniques or treatments that have worked for others. You’ll also meet people who understand what you’re going through. To find a support group in your community, check with your doctor, a nurse or the county health department.
Prepare for challenging situations. If something especially stressful is coming up in your life, such as a move or a new job, knowing what you have to do ahead of time can help you cope.
Talk to a counselor or therapist. Insomnia, depression and impotence are possible complications of peripheral neuropathy. If you experience any of these, you may find it helpful to talk to a counselor or therapist in addition to your primary care doctor. There are treatments that can help.
How to Sleep With Neuropathy
Sleep is an essential part of living—sleep helps us avoid major health problems and it is essential to our mental and physical performance. It affects our mood and stress and anxiety levels. Unfortunately, sleep disturbance or insomnia is often a side effect of neuropathy pain. It is a common complaint among people with living with chronic pain.
It’s no surprise that about 70 percent of pain patients, including those suffering from PN, back pain, headaches, arthritis and fibromyalgia, report they have trouble sleeping according to the Journal of Pain Medicine.
Pain can interfere with sleep due to a combination of issues. The list includes discomfort, reduced activity levels, anxiety, worry, depression and use of medications such as codeine that relieve pain but disturb sleep.
Most experts recommend a range of seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults, regardless of age or gender. This may seem impossible to people with chronic pain, but there are steps you can take to improve your sleep, which may lead to less pain and lower levels of depression and anxiety. First, talk with your doctor to see if there are medications that may lessen your sleep disturbance. You should also check with your doctor to make sure your current medications aren’t causing some of your sleep disturbance.
Beyond medication, there are several things you can do yourself to improve your sleep. Here are some methods to try and help you fall asleep more quickly, help you sleep more deeply, help you stay asleep, and ultimately help keep you healthy.
Following are tips for improving your sleep:
- Reduce your caffeine intake, especially in the afternoons
- Quit smoking
- Limit and/or omit alcohol consumption
- Limit naps to less than one hour, preferably less
- Don’t stay in bed too long—spending time in bed without sleeping leads to more shallow sleep
- Adhere to a regular daily schedule including going to bed and getting up at the same time
- Maintain a regular exercise program. Be sure to complete exercise several hours before bedtime
- Make sure your bed is comfortable. You should have enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam or egg crate toppers, and pillows that provide more support
- Keep your room cool. The temperature of your bedroom also affects sleep. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65° F or 18° C) with adequate ventilation. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep.
- Turn off your TV and Computer, many people use the television to fall asleep or relax at the end of the day. Not only does the light suppress melatonin production, but television can actually stimulate the mind, rather than relaxing it.
- Don’t watch the clock – turn your alarm clock around so that it is not facing you
- Keep a note pad and pencil by your bed to write down any thoughts that may wake you up at night so you can put them to rest
- Refrain from taking a hot bath or shower right before bed; the body needs to cool a degree before getting into deep sleep
- Try listening to relaxing soft music or audio books instead, or practicing relaxation exercises.
Visualizing a peaceful, restful place. Close your eyes and imagine a place or activity that is calming and peaceful for you. Concentrate on how relaxed this place or activity makes you feel.
Some patients find comfort from a pillow between their legs that keeps their knees from touching. And there’s an added benefit: A pillow between your legs at night will prevent your upper leg from pulling your spine out of alignment and reduces stress on your hips and lower back.
It may take three to four weeks of trying these techniques before you begin to see an improvement in your sleep. During the first two weeks, your sleep may actually worsen before it improves, but improved sleep may lead to less pain intensity and improved mood.
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