Managing thoughts and feelings

Those people with chronic pain know full well how much it can interfere with daily life and how powerless one can feel in managing it. Also, as it is typically not visible and is poorly understood, there is often a pressure to carry on as normal. Being in constant pain, coupled with a pressure to appear to be coping takes a heavy psychological toll. It can bring about feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and fear, and can lead to thoughts like “this pain has ruined my life”, “nothing i can do will make a difference”. These thoughts can become entrenched and greatly decrease one’s quality of life.

Because of where our pain and emotion centres are in the brain, it makes sense that our thoughts and feelings play a big role in influencing our experience of pain, making it worse, or less intense.

What can we do to manage our difficult thoughts and feelings?

Here are some strategies to help keep difficult thoughts and feelings at bay:

  • Reconnect with things you enjoy

It’s easy for life with chronic pain to feel like a constant battle; each day to feel like a hurdle to be overcome, and just get through. This can suck the enjoyment out of life and leave us feeling down and low. Scheduling in some time for relaxation and fun can help to bring about more positive feelings. This can help to quieten the effects of chronic pain on one’s life.

This is a hard one, particularly if you have felt low for a while. It can seem like nothing is going to make a difference. That’s why I encourage people to schedule things and follow through (even if they don’t FEEL like doing them), and then see if it makes a difference to their mood.

  • Coping statements

With or without chronic pain, we all have a lot of stuff going through our minds: by stuff I mean THOUGHTS. Some good and some not so good, and the latter can really get us down. Learning to notice what you say to yourself when your struggling to cope is the first step in learning to say something different ….and see how this changes things.

For example, let’s say you’re having a flare up and you say to yourself ”oh no, not this again”, which quickly escalates to “chronic pain has ruined my life”…and then to “there’s no point.. it’s never going to get better”…by which point you’re feeling very low and hopeless..

If you can get to recognise when you’re thinking like this, you’re well on your way to saying “hold on…ok..so I’m having a flare up…let me manage this here and now. Rest..recuperate…and try again…”

Some examples of helpful affirmations could be:

“I’ve had flare-ups in the pain before, and it settles down again; this will pass”

“I will do the best job I can. If people don’t understand, that’s their problem. I can’t please everyone”

“I can do many things. I just need to pace myself and take breaks.”