Sunhats and Selfhelp: pain management

On a hot, wind-still, summer evening, the park by the river is the perfect place to be. When you are only just two, this perfection poses a few dilemmas. Climbing and running and jumping, your very favourite things to do, make your shoes and sunhat fall off, and somehow turn the hat inside out. And when you an only just two year old, these are pretty serious dilemmas. Shoes are just too difficult yet. But the grass is nicer on bare feet anyway, so no worries, you can stuff the shoes in your pocket and keep going.sun hats pin

But the hat. This is the strong New Zealand sun, that burns in seconds, and hurts your skin and stings your eyes. You already know all about slip-slop-slapping with sun-cream and hat. And you are very fond of your hat, with the sharks and dinosaurs on it. You want to wear it, but it’s just not working. You don’t want help, because you are someone who likes to do everything you can for yourself, and you are pretty sure, if you do it once more, try it this way, it might just work.

You are so utterly focused on turning your sun-hat the right way out and getting it on your head, that you are breathing like a grampus, and forget to finish what you want to tell me.

“I’m fixing my hat Oma, and putting it on my head, because…” Breathe, breathe, puff.

“What are you fixing it for, sweetie?”

“Oh! For shade, Oma.”

Five minutes later, despite the success of Operation Sunhat, the inconsiderate sun manages to shine its sharp evening rays directly into your eyes.

“I need to put the sun away!” you say, although when you realise how much higher it is than the trees you’re not tall enough yet to climb, you decide the sun can stay where it is, and run off to find the highest thing on the park to climb. To practise for the sun. I know one day you will discover that putting the sun away is beyond you, but no worries: you have a sunhat, and you know how to use it.

That particular summer evening is an old memory now, but it’s one that recurs whenever I see my granddaughter learning a new skill. Putting her hat on didn’t work the first time, so she tried again. And again. And she kept trying until it did work. It might not seem much of a skill, but the real skill is not in hat management (though success with the hat stood her in good stead later for clothes with tricky buttons and zips, and shoes with buckles or bows). The real skill was in her attitude. Every repeated attempt was another show of persistence, of resilience in the face of mistakes, or of ideas not working as well as expected. Each time she tried again, she was developing patience, planning, and problem solving skills. And each success, no matter how small, taught her that those skills are valuable and productive. She is six now, and she still approaches learning with that same spirit of exploration and determination.

Many people could do with a hefty sprinkle of her persistence and self-belief over their morning cornflakes every day. I often see people in Facebook trigeminal neuralgia support groups ask for help with dealing with their pain, and then dismiss any suggestions with “I tried that once before. It didn’t work.” Chronic pain conditions are life-limiting and debilitating, no doubt about that. Fatigue, anxiety and stress often walk alongside. But there are many pain management exercises and strategies we can learn to help manage all of this.

Will pain management exercises make the pain recede so that normal life, whatever that happens to be, becomes less difficult?
Yes: we can all learn to manage a misbehaving hat.

Will they reduce those pain attacks that are a 10 on the pain scale, that drop you to your knees on the floor, leave you vomiting, or half-conscious?
Not necessarily, but they will help you focus on getting from one moment to the next.

Will you get them right first time?
Maybe. If not, keep trying. All new skills take time and practice. If you practice them at times when your pain isn’t a problem, they’ll be second nature by the time you need to use them.

Will they cure the pain?
No. None of us can put the sun away. But we can all wear sunhats, sun protection dark glasses etc to reduce its effects. It’s the same with pain. Practice these pain management exercises and you’ll find you cope better with the pain.



I come back to this one again and again. It’s simple and unobtrusive, so I can do it wherever, whenever. Thumbs and fingers do the job just as well. I was talking to someone today, when electric shocks of pain snaked along my jaw in eye-watering stabs. In my pockets, I tapped my thumbs, left then right, in a rythmic beat against my hips. The brain is distracted by movement, it switches its focus from pain to the thumbs, and keeps it busy until the pain fades or passes.


This is another easy and unobtrusive pain management exercise you can  do wherever you are. If it’s not possible to sit down, don’t worry. I’ve often used this tool when I’m standing waiting in a queue in the supermarket. You don’t even need to move your eyes too far either side, so if you’re self-conscious trying this in public, nobody looking will notice. Pretend you are reading a book!



breather balloon

I use a range  of breathing exercises for pain management, including energising ones for those days when fatigue is the worst problem, and I just need to make my brain wake up out of sluggish mode, focusing ones that help me either reduce or cope with extreme pain, and relaxiation ones that make me conk out into sound sleep at night.
This one is my favourite for pain, but there are many more to try.




I keep an app on my phone and my laptop,
so when I need it, it’s always at hand. which has a range of guided and independent meditations and relaxation exercises. The internet is full of others you might find more up your street, (or on your whispering beach, or in your rustling forest). Gentle yoga (avoid bending if you have face pain), tai chi, meditation etc are all great relaxation activities too. You-tube is your friend here.




This involves imagining yourself in your
‘happy place’ as a distraction from pain.

You can do self-guided visualisations
or search the internet for guided ones.
Make sure guided ones are narrated by a voice
you can enjoy listening to for long.
I found it easier starting off with guided ones,
and once I was accustomed to the practice,
moved on to self-guided. 



mindfulness set

Mindfulness is one of my favourite pain management techniques, and I use it for pretty much every aspect of my life. It’s not complicated or as mystical and otherworldly as it might sound. It’s simply focusing on the moment you are in right now and allowing yourself to experience it through your senses. Giving yourself a mental breathing space.

sun hats pin (2)DISTRACTION

Anything goes! When the brain is busy focusing on something, anything, it does not respond so much to the pain signals. So any activity you can get absorbed in works well. For me, the list always includes writing, walks, art, games, reading, music, crafts, the garden. Figure out a whole range of things you enjoy doing, so if physical activity isn’t possible, you have some mental activities to fall back on. And if thinking is too much because of brain-fog, then playing gentle music in the background, or leaving the TV on as wallpaper, or staring at the birds out of the window.

As my granddaughter learned with her sunhat, not every idea will work every time. But don’t be a tried-it-once-give-up kind of person. Learn all the tools, and practice them often. Figure out which ones work best when. Make them work for you.



48 thoughts on “Sunhats and Selfhelp: pain management

  1. I always love how you can take two very different points and weave them together seamlessly into a story and create something fantastic. My first thought when reading about your granddaughter and the sun was, I can relate! I burn like a redhead every time I’m out in the sun for any length of time. I had never thought of some of these pain management techniques. I never knew about toe taping or eye tracking. Are those meant for distraction until the pain subsides? Definitely learned a lot from this post, as always, Trish!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, toe-tapping and eye tracking work because they are distraction techniques – the brain canb’t focus on the pain if it is doing something else, and these are great excercises for when doing anything energetic or effortful is not an option


  2. All these pain mangement techniques are pretty new to me. I think I will go with the visualization method. By the way, I like a good sunhat and glares for the summers! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful post! I love the way you found this similarity between your granddaughter’s determination and the ways to help cope with chronic pain. Beautifully written and so relatable. I know that writing and reading are big ones for me. Anytime I need to find an escape I turn to words.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We can learn so much from the little ones in our lives. Persistence is one. I love how you led from that memory into different ways to deal with pain, while still admitting that each one may not work every time. It’s good to have a repertoire of tricks or skills to try so that you can pull out another if the first one or two doesn’t work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. i have been trying to work more on meditation and breathing so i can be more in tune with my body and manage stress everyday. thank you for the reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a wonderful list of tips! I agree that working on breathing can be pretty helpful and distracting from what ever is messing with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. it is such a sweet post. a moment with your granddaughter is so precious! Breathing is my main way to manage whatsoever, it works wonders on me

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the way you set up your stories each and every time. I have using the calm app myself for about a year now and it is one of the best I’ve tried. The other thing you mention is breathing. I use 4-7-8 breathing. $ seconds breathing in, 7 seconds to hold and 8 seconds to exhale forcefully. Music for me is still the best distraction when trying to escape anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the adorable little story at the beginning. My son is now 4 years old and I see this every day. We could all stand to learn from our little ones. Focus on what matters and keep trying until you figure it out. Even if it seems like a small task to others doesn’t mean it’s a small task to you. I have anxiety and a touch of agoraphobia, so doing something as normal as going to the movies can be very difficult to me. I have a handful of apps on my phone and even some recordings of my therapist walking me through relaxation techniques. If I need to, I can put on my little headphones I keep in my purse and listen to one in a stressful situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great idea, the recordings from your therapist. Then it’s got the added bonus of a person you trust.


    1. I hope he finds this helpful, and manages to get on top of the pain. I’ll be adding lots more articles and suggestions for managing life with pain so please follow my blog, and ask him to do the same.


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