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February 15, 2017
Medication may be right for you in the short term, but it doesn’t come without risks.
Research concludes that strong painkillers and medication often used to treat stress, anxiety and insomnia (benzodiazepines), generally shouldn’t be used for very long. This is because they:
Studies have shown that there are more effective treatments than medication for chronic (persistent) pain, stress, anxiety and insomnia9,10,11.
You don’t have to wait until your medication is finished to start trying these treatments, you can speak with your doctor about using them right away1. Many of them take practice and you won’t necessarily feel the full benefit of them immediately. But they will help to treat the root cause of your problem instead of being a band-aid solution, so they are likely to help you feel better in the long term.
Psychologists can use a range of techniques to help you get your stress and anxiety under control and help you sleep better. They can also help you manage pain.
It might seem strange at first to try and fix a problem that seems to be with your body by working with your mind. But research is showing how powerful the mind-body connection is, and how dramatically things like our thought patterns and expectations affect our actual experiences12,13,14.
One of the most important things you can do to get your pain, stress, anxiety and sleep problems under control, is to improve the way you’re thinking.
It’s natural for us to focus our thoughts on things that distress us, but when we become overwhelmed or worried, we need to think differently. Just like you can control your physical health by eating a well balanced diet and regularly exercising, you can control your mental health by learning how to regulate your thoughts15. Research has shown that the most effective treatment for improving mental health for people with medical problems including chronic (persistent) pain is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)16,6. CBT is provided by trained psychologists.
Ask your GP for a referral to a psychologist so you can claim your treatment on Medicare.
Relaxation techniques include breathing and relaxing the muscles16. They can help to relieve the symptoms of stress and anxiety, help you prepare for a better night’s sleep and help you manage pain better.
When you’re feeling stressed or anxious your body releases specific hormones that are part of our ‘fight or flight’ response13. Regularly using relaxation techniques helps reduce this by calming your body so it doesn’t trigger these hormones. This helps you think clearly and deal with the situation better.
Often pain or the worry about not being able to sleep causes stress and anxiety6, so relaxation techniques can help a variety of problems.
You can learn relaxation techniques by:
• Asking your GP
• Going to a psychologist
• Trying a local yoga, Tai Chi or mindfulness class
• Using one of the many online tools and apps, for example ReachOut Breathe
Getting active can lift your mood17 by flooding your body with feel-good chemicals (endorphins) and distract you from negative thoughts. You don’t have to become a bodybuilder, just getting out walking will help. Exercise not only helps you feel happier and calmer, it’s been also proven to help you sleep better17.
If pain is making exercise or even your day to day activities tough, seeing a physiotherapist could help you get going with a program that works for you. It’s important not to push yourself too hard, starting slowly and building up gradually is the way to go18. This will help you avoid setbacks and keep you in a positive frame of mind.
Ask your GP for a referral to a physiotherapist so you can claim your treatment on Medicare.
What you eat has an enormous impact on your body and mind. Good nutrition gives your body the building blocks to make the ‘feel good’ chemicals for your brain, as well as those which regulate your mood and your energy levels.
Cutting down on some things (like processed foods, sugar and alcohol)19,20,21, while making sure you’re eating healthy foods (like lots of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains)21, can help your brain and body work together to keep you feeling your best22.
Trying different diets is often not the best way to get healthy. Eating regular, nutritious meals by following the food pyramid guidance is more likely to give you better results in the long term.
If you are struggling to eat well, ask your GP for some help or a referral to a dietitian.