Living with chronic pain may have led you to feel that you have lost control of your life. This is a natural and common response. Unfortunately, reduced feelings of control are related to depression, loss of hope, disability, worry, and worsening of outcome, making it even more difficult for you to manage your pain. Although there are some aspects of chronic pain that are less controllable, there are many components of your life that you can still control. Exercising control in these domains will make you feel stronger and less helpless, more hopeful and less depressed. So, what can you control?
Although you may sometimes have trouble controlling your thoughts, you are in charge of what is in your head. Researchers and clinicians have found that your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs play an important role in chronic pain management. For example, catastrophic thinking - a habit of generating worst case scenarios in the absence of hard evidence – can lead to increased worry, upset, and pain. Another example is the habit of believing you know what other people think or feel. For instance, if someone doesn't ask you how you are feeling, you may assume he doesn't care. However, since you can't read his mind, you don't know his thoughts, motives, or emotions. Perhaps he felt uncomfortable asking because he worried he wouldn't know how best to respond to your answer. Or, knowing about the chronic nature of your pain problem, maybe he assumed you were feeling the same way from day-to-day. Another type of belief that reduces control is the belief that your doctor is in charge of your pain management. Managing your pain is a joint effort between you and your medical providers – you play a very important role. Thoughts are extremely powerful. It is a useful exercise to monitor your thoughts, looking for those that decrease your fe
elings of control as well as those that allow you to recognize your strengths and take control. Work to increase those that give you strength and help you to feel in control.
Learn as Much as You Can About Your Condition and Its Treatment
Even if you don't have a medical background, there is still a lot you can learn about your condition and its treatment. You will want to be careful to get your information from reliable medical sources, such as your doctor, web sites associated with credible medical groups (e.g., the Mayo Clinic), or any group that uses science as the basis for the information that it shares with the public. Learn as much as you can about what may make your condition worse and what may make it better. Keep track of your medical records, history, medication, treatments, and symptoms. The more you know, the better you will be able to work with your doctor, and the more control you will exercise over your pain management.
Your Focus of Attention
It is normal to focus on pain – pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong and that some action needs to be taken. This is especially true, and helpful, for acute pain. But, when pain becomes chronic and you are doing all you can do to manage it, paying too much attention to pain doesn't make a difference. In fact, it can make the pain experience feel worse and can increase negative emotions such as fear or depression. Of course, it would be unrealistic to suggest that you can just stop noticing your pain. However, you can simply watch where your attention lands and then redirect it away from pain whenever possible.
These are just three areas where you may find ways to take control. In addition to these, you may wish to spend some time thinking about other areas in which you do have control. The more control you take, the stronger, more effective, and hopeful you will be.
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.