7 Things You Do That Only Make the Pain Worse

Your thoughts and attitude toward your pain play a bigger role than you think in your pain symptoms. Here’s how to trick your brain into feeling less pain.

Excerpted from Take Control of Pain (Reader's Digest Association Books)
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    Everyone experiences pain differently.

    How much distress it causes varies from person to person, and even from day to day—and a lot of that depends on how you think. If you are hopeful, optimistic, and realistic in your thoughts, your pain level will seem lower. On the flip side, there are a number of different thinking patterns that can make pain worse. Once you understand how your thinking style affects your pain, you can learn how to better manage your pain and feel better.

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    You think: “What if?”

    You have an active imagination, envisioning pain as evil, certain that it is leading to further disease or disability. You ask yourself constantly ‘What if … ?’ Your easy access to medical information on the Internet, on television and in books feeds your fears. You read about a disease, even a rare one, and you’re sure you have it. When pain strikes, you stay on the couch or head for bed. You’re wary of doing anything that might make you feel worse. The problem with this thinking style, known as catastrophizing, is that it leads to a heightened focus on pain, increased muscle tension, and avoidance of things that give you quality of life. Try to stop focusing on the pain to get some relief.

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    You think: “I should”

    You might be embarrassed or ashamed of admitting you’re in pain—and would rather suffer from pain than be seen as a wimp or complainer because you “should” be able to manage. This is a sure-fire way to feel miserable and angry with the world, and ultimately to increase your pain and to alienate yourself from others. Instead of this approach, slow down. You don't have to keep going no matter what.

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    You have an “all-or-nothing” thinking style

    You view the world in absolutes, it’s either a “good” or a “bad” day, things are great or they are terrible. The problem with this style of thinking is that it doesn’t allow for shades of grey. When you color your whole day as “bad,” you don’t leave much room for recognizing the okay or even good things that occurred. To decrease your pain, try to manage to balance out your thinking so the pain doesn’t seem to have quite so much control over your life.

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    You filter out the good stuff

    You pay attention to all the difficult, sad, or horrible things in your life, and ignore some of the other better things going on. It seems like tunnel vision, with all the “not so great” things right in front of you. When someone asks you about your week, you forget about the days when you were able to do things easily and focus on the times when you experienced pain flare-ups. If you switch your thinking you'll be able to drive your mood up, and drive down your pain level.

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    You overgeneralize

    If you experience a pain flare-up while out shopping, you think that you “always” get pain when you go out. The problem with this type of thinking is that you start to over-inflate the frequency of a problem. This serves to focus only on the things you can’t do, and to lower your mood. Try to take a single fact and apply just to the current situation, not all of them.

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    You think things are worse than they are

    This thinking style takes everyday problems that you face and turns them into something huge to surmount. This can lead to a feeling of powerlessness and massive distress over the size of what you feel you have to overcome. Instead, once you notice problems you should turn down the size of them, making them more manageable and less overwhelming.

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    You play martyr

    You subconsciously want to hang on to your pain because it serves you in some way. When you think this way, you may try to seek attention for your ‘suffering’. You may be afraid that once you’re well, everyone who caters to you may vanish. It could be that once you have manageable pain, you will have to face other problems in your life, such as an unsatisfactory job or relationship. The problem with this thinking style is that it can catapult you into viewing yourself as disabled and lead to a spiral downwards of activity and mood. Let go of the pain in your mind and what you think it yields you.

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