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Wednesday Wisdom and Secondary Suffering

When you are dealing with a long-term health condition, the obvious challenges come from symptoms like pain, fatigue, or neurological symptoms. This is known as primary suffering.

However, living with a long-term condition can bring other difficulties, including stress, worry and low mood.

Your health may prevent you from doing things you want or need to do, or you may not be able to see as much of your friends and family as you want. Treatments you try may have nasty side-effects, or may not help as much as you hoped, leading to disappointment.

All these added challenges are known as secondary suffering. Some people find that these secondary difficulties can make their symptoms worse, for example being stressed and worried means that pain increases, and so a vicious cycle develops.

It’s kind of like having to carry a cushion everywhere you go - it makes it difficult to go about your life. But when you start adding more and more cushions to the pile in your arms, life becomes increasingly difficult. Your symptoms are like the first cushion, and the secondary suffering is the additional cushions piled on top. If you could find a way to put down some of the cushions, wouldn’t life feel a little bit easier?

Although it may be unintentional, the way we respond to our challenges can add to the suffering we are experiencing. You may not be able to get rid of the symptoms, but you can decide how you respond to them.

Resistance often increases pain, so another option is to “turn toward” it.

The basics of this strategy include:

  • Describing the pain - location, shape, size, does it have a color?
  • Identify feelings you have about your symptoms - i.e. anger, sadness, impatience
  • Softening your reaction to the symptoms through breath
  • Try to “be” with the symptoms they way you would comfort a child or pet in distress
  • Allow your reactions to be there, realizing you don’t have to like the situation
  • Rather that pushing difficult feelings away, look for somewhere in your body that is pain free or focus on something pleasant in your environment like a plant or art work.
  • Finish this exercise by broadening your focus to your wider environment, taking in the sights and sounds around you.
  • When you’re ready, continue with your day.

I hope you found something helpful in this post!

P.S. If you want to experience how working with a coach can help you reduce secondary suffering, click the button in the lower right corner and sign up for a FREE coaching call.