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Can a Positive Mindset Change Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain can sometimes seem impossible to bear, let alone manage. This can understandably cause a lot of overwhelming and intensely negative thoughts at once. Thankfully, there may be a correlation between a positive mindset and reduced symptoms of chronic pain.

What is the Connection Between a Positive Mindset and Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain can negatively impact “multiple aspects of patient health, including sleep, cognitive processes and brain function, mood/mental health, cardiovascular health, sexual function, and overall quality of life,” according to a study published in Pain Medicine. While a positive mindset can’t completely eradicate chronic pain, studies have shown a direct correlation between positive affect of the mind and the perception of chronic pain. Several therapies and psychological techniques can boost positive affect.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Pain

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one approach that has been effective for people living with chronic pain. This is a skills and evidence-based psychological treatment option that literally “trains” the brain to disengage from catastrophic thinking and redirect it to a more soothing thought. For example, when you begin to say to yourself, “This pain is unbearable,” CBT helps you practice supportive self-assurance by turning the statement into: “The pain I’m experiencing is temporary; meanwhile I’m going to practice positive self-care.”

Brain-imaging research has proven CBT’s positive effects on the mind, even without eliminating the pain itself. By practicing CBT, Scientific American explains, “[The brain] learns to ratchet down pain signals, which enhances the effectiveness of medical interventions and helps patients reduce their need for doctors and pills.”

Coping Mechanisms

Positive coping mechanisms can also help you live with chronic pain. It’s understandable to feel stressed about your chronic pain, especially if it affects every aspect of your life. But when stress and pain intertwine, symptoms can be unintentionally increased. Utilizing positive coping mechanisms can help you find temporary relief.

  • Practice constructive thinking: Focus on accomplishments, even if they’re very small. For example, if your pain is less severe than the day before, take a moment to celebrate. At the same time, be kind to yourself and validate your emotions if the pain is intense.
  • Engage in comfortable physical activities: We understand that exercising with chronic pain can be very difficult, but it doesn’t have to be strenuous. Try your best to engage in at least 15-30 minutes of preferred physical activity every day.
  • Seek support: Living with chronic pain can be an emotionally cumbersome and lonely experience. Consider connecting with a local support group or reaching out to other people living through similar experiences.
  • Work with a professional: You never have to suffer chronic pain alone. A mental health professional can guide you with other positive strategies that will help you endure intense symptoms of chronic pain.
  • Make time for your favorite hobby: Distracting yourself with a hobby can be a positive way to prevent catastrophic thoughts. If you can practice your hobby as a communal activity, that’s even better.

Positive Mindset vs. Toxic Positivity

Though a healthy positive mindset has been shown to help those with chronic pain, there is a distinct separation between that and toxic positivity, which is a complete rejection of any negative emotions or experiences. “A variety of scientific studies demonstrate that hiding or denying our emotions leads to more stress on the body and/or increased difficulty avoiding the distressing thoughts and feelings,” asserts Dan Mager MSW in Psychology Today.

By contrast, having a positive mindset involves validating negative thoughts while living with them in a healthy manner. A positive mindset can help relieve symptoms of chronic pain while acknowledging that the pain is happening.

To create a comprehensive treatment plan for your chronic pain needs, the compassionate pain management team at United Physician Group will provide you with the best care possible. Connect with us online or by calling (833) 523-0906 to schedule an appointment.