Regain Control and Mastery of Your Thinking

Here is a preview of the feature article in Louisiana Pain Quarterly’s Fall/Winter issue.

Most people living with chronic pain have heard the statement, “It’s all in your head” either directly or implied from a member of your healthcare team, friends, or family. This statement typically makes individuals with chronic pain pretty angry and feel like they are seen to be responsible for their pain or are thought of as emotionally manipulative. I would like to present an alternative: all of our emotional distress is directly linked to brain functions so is in our head but that does not make it any less real. We often talk about something being in your head as being an illusion yet everything from our perception of the world to our sense of who we are is really just in our head if you really look at it. Just because everyone the perception of pain is mental does not make it an illusion or made up. On the other hand, our thoughts influence our emotional reactions. Therefore, learning to take control over you thinking is not likely to eliminate your experience of chronic pain but may help reduce how miserable you feel in reaction to your pain.

Have you ever felt preoccupied by your current pain, only to see your emotional distress about the pain diminish when you speak to a supportive loved one?

Quite often, our experience of emotional distress comes from our perception of a situation. Often that perception is right, but sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we are unreasonably harsh with ourselves, or jump to wrong conclusions about people’s motives, and this can send us into a downward spiral of negative thinking. This kind of self-talk does not make complete sense and is often the root cause of our negative emotional reactions. Kind of the difference between accepting your pain as a fact of your life that you did not intentionally cause or relentlessly judging yourself because you should be able to function as well as anyone else to not be totally worthless. The second pattern of thinking is associated with increased emotional distress in reaction to chronic pain, while the first pattern may provide more emotional flexibility to engage in adaptive coping strategies to address chronic pain.

Self-talk is what we say to ourselves about our experiences. It includes evaluating, judging, assumptions, creating associations, understanding, cajoling, reprimanding, explaining, and much more. When self-talk includes statements about what should have been or what could have been or that include negative evaluations or put-downs in response to certain situations can lead to an emotional spiral that gets us more stressed.

This article will walk you through three simple tools that can help you regain control and mastery of your thinking. These cognitive skills that have been linked to excellent health outcomes for individuals with chronic pain but are also great recommendations for anyone experiencing problems with their mood, anxiety, or daily stress.

 

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