Thinking about setting goals to help you manage your arthritis pain? Remember all those New Year’s resolutions you made and then didn’t them? There are only a handful of people who have ever followed through and achieved them. Maybe the reasons why you weren’t able to keep them was because they were too broad and general; maybe they required resources that were not available, or maybe there were just too many barriers to overcome; and lastly, maybe you just didn’t have the motivation to reach them. This article will help you to learn how to set goals for your pain-management that can be followed through and achieved, not like all those New Year’s resolutions.
Setting goals, like losing weight, exercising regularly, participating in activities that are enjoyable, or even volunteering to help others means that you will be starting on a journey of life changes that will help in reducing the stresses, both physical and psychological, that can increase your pain levels. Haven’t been able to follow through on these or similar goals, then remember this, it is possible to set goals that will address your needs and circumstances and make them work just for you.
When you start thinking about setting your goals for managing your pain, there are 4 things you should keep in mind.
- There are two types of pain management. “Pain relief” and “pain modulation” are considered the two categories of pain management. Pain relief is when you want to reduce the intensity of pain at the moment, for instance, your knees are hurting and you take a pain reliever, or you rest your knees or apply ice to them. Just the opposite is pain modulation, which tries to only soften the effects of pain over time. Pain modulation depends on a more active involvement and long-term commitment than pain relief and includes doing things like losing weight, exercising, taking part in any enjoyable activities, as well as using relaxation techniques.
- Consulting with a health professional. Getting help from your doctor, a physical therapist, or an occupational therapist can prepare you to choose your goals. Your health professional can help you to determine what pain-management techniques are safe and appropriate for you and show you the right way to do the activities or techniques you have chosen. You will want to remember, though, that the goals you set are yours and research shows that when you are able to be involved in that setting of your goals, you have a better chance of actually meeting those goals. However, your health professional can guide you in your decision as to what goals are right for you, but you should have the last word.
- Gaining your confidence. A lack of confidence stops many people on their way to achieving their goals. When you set realistic, short-term, well-defined goals that you can accomplish, your sense of confidence will grow naturally.
- Have a “toolbox.” There are some goals, like losing weight or becoming more active, that take a long, concentrated effort and will show their benefits in the long-term. And then there are those goals that are different; they teach you a technique or strategy that can be applied to the situation allows. A technique that you can use on an as needed basis would be something like learning a stretch that helps to loosen the tight joint. You can put this into your “toolbox” where it will be ready to use anytime you need it and as you learn more pain-management techniques, you can put them into your toolbox. You might have to think about reaching into your toolbox to use these methods, but over time you’ll start to use these techniques and strategies instinctively as you need them.
The very first step in setting your goals is to ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I enjoy doing?
- What do I feel that I’m capable of doing?
- What do I honestly feel I can commit to doing?
After you’ve thought about your answers to these questions, write your goals with the following things in mind:
- Make your goals realistic.
- Make your goals specific and measurable.
- Identify barriers that may interfere with your goals and how you could work around them.
- Identify the resources that will be necessary and determine if they are available.
When you have done all this and you’ve decided on a goal, write your goal down on paper. List the specific goal, what you’ll do to accomplish it, all the resources you will need to accomplish it, all the possible obstacles, and the ways you will work around those obstacles. These are all important first steps that you should strive for.
There is yet another important step you should take and that is to figure out how well you’re doing as you strive toward your goal.
When are preparing yourself for your goals you will want to talk with your doctor because this represents a distinct change in your activities. Your doctor may instruct you to not overdo it, but to take it slowly and gradually increase the levels of your activities. Your doctor may even tell you that while you can expect some initial muscle soreness, and there may be an increase in pain, meaning that you are probably doing too much and that you should cut back. Warming up for 15 minutes before you walk is another good idea. Your warm-up could include light exercises such as foot rotations, seated leg extensions, and marching in place at a slow pace.
Next, take a look at the resources you will need to start your goal. You will want to think about comfort, and finding someone who can hold you accountable and add to your motivation and commitment, maybe a friend or family member.
Take a look at any possible barriers, like bad weather if your goal is to do more walking. Have a backup plan or maybe even two, that way you won’t lose your momentum.
Next, is setting your goal. You could use something called Goal Attainment Scaling, which you can use to measure whether you are attaining your goal. With the Goal Attainment Scaling you can set your expected goal at 0 on the rating scale and then you could assign scores of +2 to -2 for your progress that is above and below your expectations. To do this you will have to decide what progress will be the minimally acceptable to you, and what your realistic maximum is.
Keeping brief notes on your progress is also an important part of self-monitoring as you work toward your goals. You can take notes on what you have accomplished, how you feel physically, your energy levels, your pain intensity, or even your joint mobility, how you felt emotionally, feelings of accomplishment, independence, well-being, or even your frustrations, and any barriers you have experienced or further resources you may need. Your notes can be short and concise, just enough to keep up with how you are doing in meeting your goals. You can write your notes on a calendar or in a journal, or on your computer, anywhere it will be easily assessable to you and will help to motivate you to stay on your target goal. If there are days you will not be able to pursue your goals, don’t include them in your schedule of activities.
After you have reached your first goal, you will be able to add more. Having two goals going on at the same time is appropriate if you feel that working toward them will not increase your level of stress. You might want to keep in mind though, that increased stress increases pain.
The goals you set for your life and for pain-management are inseparable. When you have achieved your pain-management goals, your overall well-being is improved as well. Even though you might find that the reduction in your pain levels is slight, the weakening of the effects of pain can be much greater, and your ability to live with the pain may also improve.
You’ll also have a greater sense of confidence that goal setting will lead to. People who have set and accomplished pain-management goals have learned how to increase joint strength and flexibility, will learn how to enjoy the diversions that take their minds off of their pain, they believe that the experience of living with pain can be effectively managed, they are able to communicate the pain in a clear and more positive way to themselves and to others, and they improve their ability to relax when stress and pain are increasing. When you achieve your goals, experiencing these benefits will give you more confidence, greater self-esteem and an increased sense of well-being.