How To Psychologically Deal With Chronic Pain

How To Psychologically Deal With Chronic Pain


Pain hurts, no doubt about it. No matter what causes our pain, or whether our pain is acute or chronic, no one likes to deal with it. For those of us who live with chronic pain, it’s a matter of either learning how to deal with it or being miserable. While the pain centers in our brain have a lot to do with the level and type of pain we feel, our attitude about pain also has a big impact on our ability to deal with it.

Dealing with pain

Many of us deal with chronic pain from back or neck injuries, disease processes, and reduced joint or neuromuscular function. While going through life pasting a smile on your face may look good on the outside, it doesn’t help too much on the inside. However, adopting a more positive or optimistic outlook can help enhance your quality of life even though you’re dealing with pain or chronic pain issues.

As a physical therapist, I deal with patients with chronic spine conditions, neck injuries, nerve damage, and other issues that cause pain. Some clients deal with their pain remarkably well while others become introverted, grumpy, and hard to be around. When working with my patients, I try to encourage them to always focus on what they can physically do. They, and I, know their physical limitations and the physical limitations that pain can create for them, but it’s also important to congratulate yourself on the small achievements, and even the bigger ones that come along as you recover from an injury or illness or surgery. Focusing on what you can do rather than on what you can’t offers encouragement and hope.

When it comes to adjusting your mindset or attitude when dealing with a bad pain day, it’s important to take more charge over your body and your environment. For example, when dealing with chronic pain, it may be difficult to eat properly, to exercise, or to care for your hygiene or appearance. By forcing yourself to do these things, you are taking more control over your pain. You’re not wallowing in self-pity but focusing on self-care and wellness. Doing so helps fend off a sense of hopelessness that chronic pain often creates. Devise an action plan of the most beneficial ways that your habits, chores, or lifestyle can have when dealing with your pain.

Coping Tips

  • Take steps to relieve as much stress as possible from your life. Stress can make your pain feel worse. Stress, anxiety and depression increase our body’s sensitivity to pain.
  • Relieve stress through exercise, meditation, or relaxation methods. Exercise releases endorphins that improve mood as well as block pain signals.
  • Avoid relying on alcohol, cigarettes or illicit drugs to manage your pain. All of these not only worsen chronic pain, but increase your risk of developing other illnesses or diseases.
  • Keep track of your pain levels based on your activities. Rate your pain score based on a 1 to 10 scale and log your activities for the day. Doing this will help your doctor and physical therapist keep track of your pain management and functioning.
  • Develop a positive mantra for yourself. Say something like, “Today is a good day.” Or “I feel good today.” Even positive affirmations such as, “I’m awesome!” Or “I’m beautiful (or handsome).”
  • Be aware of anticipating pain. Anticipation of pain can often heighten your sensitivity to it. I understand that dealing with chronic pain is an everyday struggle and some activities may increase the pain more – but become more aware of your anticipation of that pain. This creates a negative association between that activity and your pain.

coping strategies

It’s easy for someone who doesn’t live with chronic pain to suggest that you need to distract yourself from that pain. Sure, there is some truth in the benefits of distraction, including taking your focus from the pain and attaching it to something else. Still, this takes practice and patience. Try to find activities that you can do that will keep you and your brain occupied on something besides the pain.

Adjusting your attitude or mindset when it comes to your pain won’t solve all your problems or enable you to live a pain-free life right away, but it will help you take more control over your life rather than allowing the pain to do it for you.

Until Next Time,
Stay Happy & Healthy,
~Dr. Siobhan

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