One of the biggest challenges for people with chronic pain is that it can feel paralyzing. Your life may feel as though it has stopped. You may no longer know who you are or what the future holds. You may find yourself clinging to the hope that life will go back to how it was before your pain began. You may find action difficult and rumination about your “old life” all too frequent. While these are natural responses, they won't help you. Living with pain means finding ways to go forward, even though you have changed. As a first step, get in the habit of looking forward and creating the best future that you can.
Focus on the Present and Future. It is easy to get caught up in the past, daydreaming about how good life was before your pain problem. However, dwelling on the past isn't helpful. You can't go back. Practice taking action in the present that will allow you to create a better future. For example, increase healthy habits today to create a stronger foundation for tomorrow's pain issues.
Increase Your Optimism. One way to start moving forward is to learn to be optimistic about the future. Optimism yields action. Pessimism can be paralyzing. Optimism boosts mood. Pessimism is depressing. Given the difficulties posed by your pain problem, you may wonder how to become more optimistic.
- Yvo Meevissen and colleagues at Maastricht University have found that imagining your best possible self leads to increases in optimism. For five minutes per day, study participants imagined their best possi
ble self in three life areas, personal, relational, and professional. The researchers reported that over a two week period, this small daily effort yielded important increases in optimism!
- You will likely also benefit from challenging pessimistic thoughts. When you have a pessimistic thought, ask yourself which parts of the thought are true, which parts are not true, and which parts are simply unknown. Neutralizing pessimism often opens the door for hope.
Create a Plan. Think about where you want to go. What new paths can you take, even though you have pain? How can you continue with old goals, modifying them if necessary, to accommodate your pain? What are the steps to begin moving toward your future? If you need help in creating a plan, read one of my previous blog posts, “Don't Give Up On Goals” for advice on how to create a goal-based plan. Try to be flexible and creative – don't get stuck in the rut of believing that life can only be good after you get rid of your pain. Start small: achievable goals, little changes, minor risks. Create the habit of planning and moving forward.
About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.