Positive Thinking: 5 Tools to Improve Your Outlook

If you are living with chronic pain, you know how hard it is to break the cycle of negative thoughts. Here, effective ways to help you see the sunnier side of life.

How you think about your pain can change how you feel it, for better or worse.

It may sound like philosophy, but it’s rooted in science. Neuroscientific studies have shown that our brains physically change when we experience positive or negative emotions. Believe it or not, this plays a significant role in how well we manage pain, especially on a daily basis.1

We know that areas of the brain can be influenced by thoughts. For instance, excessive anxiety can lower the threshold for pain. In other words, an anxious person is generally less tolerant of pain. 

Because the mind and body are in constant communication, the way we perceive our pain can change the way we feel it. Our thoughts become our actions. This explains why shifting our perspectives is so important. Thinking postively is an effective way to control our symptoms -- no drugs required.

Here's what you can do to reverse that negative soundtrack: 

1. Breaking Bad Habits

You may have had some of these thoughts at one time or another:

  • I can’t live another day with this much pain.
  • This pain will never end…ever 
  • Why me? This pain is so unfair right now.

Waking up every day with pain isn’t easy and may explain why depressing thoughts have a way of crowding out the more positive ones in our heads. When we are suffering, fear of pain can slowly begin to creep in. Dwell too much on the discomfort and pretty soon we start to resent our health, and exaggerate how badly we feel.

When we are under duress, the negativity naturally springs up so don't get frustrated. These “automatic thoughts,” which are essentially emotion-filled dialogues, can be stopped with rational thinking.

Remember this: Spiraling down won’t bring you up. You have to purposely end the negative before you can enjoy the positive.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) can be a powerful tool to break the pattern of negative thinking and move you out of that rut. The approach isn't new and has a proven track record. CBT can be utilized in a variety of circumstances to remedy a variety of problems -- including chronic pain. Many of its core tactics revolve around gaining awareness of the problem and learning how see things from a more rational perspective. 

Speak with your doctor about seeing a CBT specialist. CBT is easy to learn. The sessions are quick and never require a long-term commitment. It can be incredibly effective for chronic pain and can give you the tools to push forward.2

2. Cultivating Positive Outlook

When we turn bad thoughts into good ones, we change everything. We stop letting pain control our lives and start living again and getting stronger. Adopting a more positive outlook on life doesn’t just change the way we think, it changes the way we feel.

It's not about trading a dark perspective for a rosy one; it's about making an irrational perspective, rational. Pain can distract us from rational thinking. CBT training can help.

Taking a rational look at our symptoms can improve them and help us feel better. When we feel good, we are empowered and become more self assured, which brings us to the third step: self-efficacy.

3. Developing Self-Efficacy

Chronic pain can also makes people feel incompetent. They become trapped by what they see as their disability -- unable to go to work, socialize with their family, or just participate in a normal lifestyle.

When living with pain, gaining a sense of confidence is important because it stops pain from taking over your life and preventing you from doing what you want to do. Gaining self-efficacy is another possible outcome of CBT.

Self-efficacy is also about confidence. The more self-efficacy you have, the more you believe in your ability to manage your symptoms and enjoy life. Pain shouldn’t take over your life, nor should the medications you take to treat it. Believing in yourself is essential, and it goes a long way to living a better life.

4. Trying New Things, Taking on New Experiences

CBT often leads people to look at their life through a different lens. They acquire new skills and are better able to handle the adversity that lies ahead. Simple CBT techniques can really make a difference in helping people manage stress and improve wellbeing. 

Meditation is one of the simplest techniques. Ancient in origin, it's widely acclaimed as a viable way to treat chronic pain. Meditation promotes relaxation -- a potent antidote to stress.

Meditation basically closes the pain gate, preventing pain from reaching the Central Nervous System. Other techniques, like image-guided visualizations and hypnosis, can also be beneficial. 

When it comes to living a more positive life, being open to new experiences is a vital step. Getting rid of inhibitions and taking on new experiences opens the mind to inspiring possibilities and freedom. There are many ways to treat pain, and a number of them don’t involve a pill.

5. Seeking Community and Family Support

Pain isn’t just rooted in your body and mind, it’s rooted in your environment – your social environment.

All too often pain patients recede from contact with their family and friends. They feel inhibited by their symptoms, too embarrassed or distracted to reach out to their loved ones.

Don't make that mistake. Emotional support should not be underestimated. Facing your challenges with others is an important and valuable asset. But people who know you intimately aren't the only ones who can help.

CBT can be used in group therapy sessions to foster a connection with people who also suffer from chronic pain. Sharing in a group can be a casual, often enjoyable method for communicating to people who can truly relate to what you're experiencing. If this appeals, ask your doctor to suggest a group you can join.

Updated on: 10/30/15
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