The term mindset is all about someone’s attitude towards something, and I truly believe that this is an important part of learning to cope with chronic pain. In this post I talk about some of the attitudes of a chronic pain mindset that I believe are crucial and demonstrate how important they are.
I’m not saying getting the right mindset will be easy. It won’t be. Change is always hard and it takes time to learn to think differently and adapt our ways of doing things, especially when it relates to something that we resent and certainly don’t want in our lives, such as chronic pain. But understanding what a chronic pain mindset looks like is the starting point.
When we change our mindset and think about our pain differently, we can begin to see things in a more optimistic way.
As always, something that works for me might not work for you. It’s about being open to different options, seeing things differently, and finding those few things that you can do to help yourself cope a little better.
Be as positive as you can
Being positive isn’t about ignoring your negative emotions. It is about not allowing them to take over your entire life.
Of course, chronic pain isn’t a good thing – it causes our bodies and minds to struggle on a daily basis; it causes anger, frustration, and at times hopelessness and isolation; it causes us to change over time and become different people to who we were before the pain began.
When you have a positive mindset, it makes the whole process much easier, and this means it is easier to move forward – to focus on the future and not the past.
Negativity breeds negativity, and positivity breeds positivity; it’s that simple. Putting it in to practice isn’t so simple, but changing your mindset to be a little more positive is the first step.
Don’t justify your pain to anyone
This is a hard one and I still struggle not justifying my pain to my friends and work colleagues. You feel like you have to explain yourself and justify why you can or cannot do something because of your pain. And the more you try not to do it, the more you do it.
I’ve found it has got easier over time, but I think personality has a big influence on whether you can do this fully not. If you can’t, then just accept it and do what you can.
Sometimes people feel better when they explain and justify things. Again, this is down to personality, and if it works for you and you’re ok with that, then that is ok.
Be grateful and appreciate the little things
Learning to be grateful can really change our mindset, our outlook on life, and improve our overall wellbeing. If you start to pick out the things that make you feel happy or that you are grateful for, you soon see that all these things add up and create more positivity in your life – a lot more than what you realise.
Learning to appreciate the small stuff, the little things in life, goes such a long way.
What might be little to you, could be big to someone else; and vice versa. I’m learning to appreciate being in nature a lot more – simply going for a walk in the countryside does wonders for my wellbeing and helps me cope better with my pain, stress and anxiety.
Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t
Again, it’s all about the positives – the stuff you can do! I learned a lot about this when I was getting reasonable adjustments put in place at work. The focus was always on what I couldn’t do (attend face-to-face meetings, travel to the office every day) rather than looking at what I could do. It all felt very negative, and it was hard to cope.
Instead, we changed the conversations to focus on the things I could do (attend meetings via teleconference, work from home) and I started to get my spark back in work and felt good about myself again. I also felt valued too, which was a big deal at the time when it felt like my life was falling apart because of my chronic pain.
Control the stuff that is within your control
We often find that we focus on the things we want to change, as they are the things that frustrate, anger or annoy us. Like having chronic pain: we don’t want it and we want to change it.
“Why won’t my pain go away?”
“I want to do [activity] but I can’t because of my pain.”
“I miss the old me.”
Instead, we need to change our mindset and learn to think differently to help us help ourselves. The negative thoughts and things we can’t control will still be there, but try focusing on what you can control instead, and see how you feel.
“I’m in pain, but I will still go outside and enjoy the sunshine.”
“I’m struggling today but I will read a book to help distract myself.”
“I can’t meet up with my friends because I’m in agony, but I will accept it this time, not get annoyed or upset more than necessary, and will speak to my friends on the phone or via FaceTime instead.”
Learn to be flexible and adaptable
Chronic pain in unpredictable. Despite my plans, I often have to cancel things or change what I’m doing because I’m having a bad pain day.
I’ve learned over time to accept this. Sometimes I get frustrated, especially when it impacts on my partner or I feel like I am letting friends and family down. But I don’t fight it. The more annoyed or angry you get, the more hurt you’ll feel, and this can make your pain worse. It takes time to learn to be flexible and adapt to each day, but again, focus on what you can control instead.
Focus on your strengths
Obviously we all have our strengths, and doing something we are good at or that we enjoy doing releases endorphins and makes us feel good. Endorphins are also a natural pain reliever so we should all be encouraged to do more of what we enjoy to help us cope with our chronic pain.
We need to identify and understand what we are good at, what our strengths are, and build on this. Often our strengths are things we enjoy, so it makes complete sense to do more of the good stuff.
On the flip side of this, your chronic pain may help you identify a new skill that you never knew you were good at. For me, this was my blog. And using my writing and design skills, I am doing something I am good at, distracting myself from my pain, and hopefully helping others at the same time.
Progress not perfection
I don’t think anyone will ever learn to accept and cope with their chronic pain 100%. We are never perfect at anything. It’s about progress – doing something every day to help you learn to cope better. The little things; the big things; your strengths; the things you can control.
Don’t beat yourself up if you get things wrong, or take a step backwards. We all do that, it’s life. As long as you know you are doing what you can, that is all you can do.
Take one day at a time, but don’t neglect your future
Your life isn’t over when you have chronic pain. It can often feel like that in the early days. Time, understanding, and you being in control of your mindset is what is important and will mean that you can live the life you want.
This tip is a bit contradictory. But we need to take one day at a time and learn to accept and cope with things, but plan for our future to keep us motivated, inspired, and have things to look forward to.
Don’t be defeated by your pain.
A little about me…
I'm Alice (Ali). I live in the north west of England with my partner and my two Westies.
Notebooks and Glasses is here to help you cope with and understand chronic pain. I share my experiences, tips and advice to help you carry on doing the things you enjoy and teach your friends and family to understand more so they can support you.