Living with pain can be hard. This can lead to negative feelings and thoughts, particularly if the pain starts affecting your sleep, ability to work and do everyday activities. But negative thinking and expecting worse case scenarios can make your experience of pain worse.
Focusing on pain sensations, thinking constantly about your pain and feeling helpless can make your pain worse. Sometimes pain can become all-consuming and can prevent you from doing the things you enjoy.
Unhelpful ways of thinking don’t just dampen your spirits. Having these kinds of thoughts can increase your level of pain. If you can distract yourself, engage in relaxation exercises or take your mind off the pain, you can help to reduce the level of pain you experience.
Unhelpful ways of thinking are also associated with poorer outcomes. According to a 2017 study that followed 209 patients with inflammatory arthritis, people who focused heavily on their pain were less likely to achieve remission when compared with individuals who did not worry about their pain as much.
It is important not to blame yourself if you struggle with these emotions as it can be a natural reaction to your situation. What is important is that you recognise when you may be having unhelpful and/or negative thoughts and make efforts to stop this line of thinking for your health and wellbeing.
Sleep and pain are linked. If you have poor sleep you may have more pain; and if you are in pain, you are less likely to sleep well. The combination of negative thoughts and poor sleep compounds the pain experience, Here are some tips for improving sleep.
Don’t let pain prevent you from doing the things you love. Talk to your doctor about which activities are safe for your arthritis and find creative ways to enjoy them. You may not be able to plant and tend a one-acre garden, but perhaps you can enjoy raised-bed gardening.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that teaches you to be present in the moment. It helps you pay attention to your thoughts and feelings about pain without judging them or making them the only focus.
Start by sitting quietly for 10 minutes a day. Focus on the sensation of your breath. When your mind starts to wander to other thoughts, simply return your attention back to your breath. There are mindfulness apps that can help you make this part of your daily routine.
Notice when you are having negative thoughts or ‘self-talk’. Ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Types of unhelpful thoughts are:
Keeping a diary of your thought patterns can help you to stop your unhelpful ways of thinking. A thought diary can make you aware of when you are having negative thoughts and help you to change your way of thinking. For example, write down:
If you are struggling to keep negative thoughts at bay, get help. See your GP or rheumatologist and they can refer you to a psychologist to help you manage. Goal-oriented treatments, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can help you develop new coping skills and change patterns of behaviour that lead to negative feelings and thoughts.
This resource has been developed based on the best available evidence. A full list of references is available upon request.