“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Tom Hanks’ famous quote in Forrest Gump rings true, even for chronic pain sufferers. You never know what twists and turns will come in life, but it’s how you react to them that matters.
Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, conducted a study and found that “people who ruminate about their pain and have more negative thoughts about their pain don’t sleep as well, and the result is they feel more pain.” Changing the way you think about your pain is easier said than done. When chronic pain dominates your life by limiting the physical actions you take, events you can attend or your normal day to day activities, getting in a rut can be the easy route to take.
A negative outlook on life can also bring harmful effects to your body physically. Studies have shown that it can lead to high heart rate, blood pressure, depression or even a weakened immune system. Changing your outlook is just one step you can take to alleviate your pain.
Steps Toward Positivity
One way to begin your healthy thinking is with cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. By teaching patients to think in a healthy way, CBT helps to change the way your brain responds to pain. Some cognitive-behavioral therapy steps include meditation, yoga, muscle relaxation, deep breathing or guided imagery. Patients can practice techniques similar to CBT with the following steps.
Stop Your Thoughts
It seems simple, but stopping yourself as soon as you think a negative thought is the first step towards healthy thinking. Your internal thoughts can help you think through problems and make decisions, but they can also bring negativity, self-pity, self-doubt and more. It’s often helpful to keep a journal to write down negative thoughts so they don’t have to crowd your mind.
Helpful or Harmful
After stopping your negative thoughts, take a moment to determine if those thoughts were helpful or harmful. Once you’ve determined if they were helpful or harmful, you can add them to the following categories: focusing on the negative and filtering out the positive, thinking things ‘should’ go a certain way, overgeneralizing or jumping to a black or white conclusion.
Once your thoughts have been categorized, you can begin working on your positive thinking. By becoming self-aware of the negative thoughts you have, you’ll begin making a conscious effort to turn those thoughts around.
Your mother always told you to look at the glass half-full instead of half-empty, and that same adage can be attributed to your chronic pain outlook. With a conscious effort to look at life in a positive way, your blood pressure, sleep, immune system and self-esteem will increase, leading to a happier life.