There is an important link between negative emotion and chronic pain. Depression, anger, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and fear can make pain worse and harder to manage. Simply inducing a bad mood in the laboratory is linked to higher reports of pain and reduced pain tolerance. But, how do positive emotions impact pain? Researchers have begun to turn to positive emotion as a form of resilience or protective factor against the ongoing stress of chronic pain. Negative emotions tend to reduce flexible thinking and trigger avoidance, lashing out, feelings of emptiness, and/or giving up; responses that do not enhance the process of coping with pain. In contrast, positive emotions such as joy, contentment, interest, feeling close to others, amusement, or love tend to open our minds to possibilities, enhancing our ability to cope. Positive emotion has also been found to help people with pain to rebound from bad pain days, allowing them to ward of long-term habits of negative thinking that tend to eat away at quality of life.
This makes sense, but, what if you are feeling a lot of negative emotion and very little positive? What can you do? You can re-discover and build positive emotion. This isn't about pretending that you are happy when you aren't, or hiding anger or frustration behind a false smile, or saying you feel contentment when you feel empty. It is about creating opportunities to discover real, positive emotion.
It would be unrealistic to think that you could create major positive emotions on a daily basis. But that is okay. What is needed is to simply increase positive emotio
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