Living with pain can be hard, especially if it's long-term—or chronic—pain. Chronic pain is pain that lasts for 3 months or longer. It can make you sleep poorly, feel tired and irritable, and have a hard time being active or working. It may strain your relationships with loved ones too, making it hard to be the kind of friend, parent, or partner you want to be. You may feel stressed or get depressed or anxious. And these feelings may make your pain worse, because they can make it harder to manage your pain.
Learning how to control your pain can help with all of these things. In most cases, chronic pain can be managed so that you can get on with your life and do your daily activities. One way you can help manage and cope with your pain is through healthy thinking. Your thoughts are something you can control. You can learn techniques to make your thoughts more helpful and encouraging.
Healthy thinking is a way to help you feel better by changing how you think. It's based on research that shows that how you think affects how you feel and act.
Studies have shown that people can and do change their thoughts and are able to live fuller lives. And by changing your thoughts to be more healthy and balanced, you are able to cope with your pain better.
, or CBT, is a therapy often used to help people think in a healthy way. CBT can help you notice the discouraging thoughts that make you feel bad. With practice, you can replace those negative, discouraging thoughts with more accurate thoughts that encourage you.
You may want to ask a counselor about acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). This type of therapy can also help people cope with chronic pain. In ACT, you work with a therapist to learn to accept your negative feelings but not let them run your life. You learn to make choices and to act based on your personal values, not negative feelings.
You also may learn to practice mindfulness, which helps you calm your mind and body by focusing only on things happening in the present moment.
Healthy thinking also involves calming your mind and body. You can learn different ways to do this, such as meditation, yoga, muscle relaxation, and guided imagery.
CBT helps you replace negative thoughts with ones that are more helpful and encouraging.
CBT helps you think in a healthy way. It helps you care for yourself better by stopping negative, discouraging thoughts.
Continue to Why?
Your mind influences your body. When you shift your thinking away from the pain and focus on more positive aspects of your life, you change the way your body responds to the anticipated pain and stress. This helps your body and mind respond better when you have pain.
By learning CBT techniques to help stop negative thoughts, you may be able to reduce your pain. You'll feel better. And you may be more able to care for yourself and handle life's challenges. It may help you avoid or cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.
By changing the way you think about pain, therapies like CBT and ACT can also help remove barriers to becoming more active. That's important because pain can improve with appropriate physical activity, such as walking or swimming.
Therapy also may focus on changing your thoughts about illness and helping you find positive ways of coping with the illness.
Healthy thinking helps change how your mind and body respond to pain.
When you shift your thinking away from the pain and change your focus to more positive aspects of your life, you change the way your body responds to the anticipated pain and stress.
Continue to How?
Many people work with a therapist or a counselor to learn CBT techniques. But you also can practice some of them on your own.
Working on your own or with a counselor, you can practice these three steps:
The goal is to have encouraging thoughts come naturally. It may take some time to change the way you think. You will need to practice healthy thinking every day.
The first step is to notice and stop your negative thoughts or "self-talk." Self-talk is what you think and believe about yourself and your experiences. It's like a running commentary in your head. Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not helpful.
The next step is to ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Does the evidence support your negative thought? Some of your self-talk may be true. Or it may be partly true but exaggerated. Here are a few types of unhelpful thoughts to look for:
The next step is to choose a more helpful thought to replace the unhelpful one.
Keeping a journal of your thoughts is one of the best ways to practice stopping, asking, and choosing your thoughts. It makes you aware of your self-talk. Write down any negative or unhelpful thoughts you had during the day. If you think you might not remember at the end of your day, keep a notepad with you so you can write down any unhelpful thoughts as they happen. Then write down a helpful message to correct the unhelpful thought.
With daily practice, more accurate and helpful thoughts will soon come naturally to you.
But there may be some truth in some of your negative thoughts. You may have some things you want to work on. If you didn't perform as well as you would like on something, write that down. You can work on a plan to correct or improve that area.
If you want, you also could write down what kind of unhelpful thought you had. Journal entries might look something like this:
Stop your negative thought
Ask what type of negative thought you had
Choose an accurate, helpful thought
"I haven't had too much pain today, but I know that won't last for long."
"Sure, not all days will be pain-free. But I've had some days without pain lately, so I know that not every day will be painful."
"I've taken all my medicines like I'm supposed to, so I should have no pain at all."
"Medicines help a lot, but they may not solve the problem alone. Using them along with healthy thinking gives me the best chance of coping with my pain."
"There's really nothing I can do to help my pain."
"Some days my pain may feel tough to manage, but there have been days when it has been better. And there are things that I can do to help my pain."
"Sitting for more than 2 hours is very hard, so there's no way I can ever go back to my job."
All or nothing
"I may not be able to return to my exact job, but I can be open to other arrangements that will allow me to continue to work in a similar way."
To practice healthy thinking, it helps to first be aware of thoughts that are negative and discouraging.
The first step is to notice and stop your negative thoughts. When you notice a discouraging thought, you can stop it in its tracks and write it down.
Continue to Where?
To learn more about stopping negative thoughts, see:
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June 3, 2013
Catherine D. Serio, PhD - Behavioral Health
& Steven Locke, MD - Psychiatry
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