The relationship between your mental state and your perception of pain is a hot topic these days. It has a very fancy name: biopsychosocialism. How d’ya like them apples? Anyway, when it comes to pain you certainly can seem to ‘think it worse’.
Researchers at the University of Keele took a group of people with pain and asked them some questions about their mindset, attitudes and typical thoughts around their pain. They discovered that a particular thinking style called ‘rumination’ was more common amongst pain sufferers.
Ruminators say they habitually think thoughts like:
‘I think about how I’m going to cope in the future’
‘I think that the pain medication might stop working’
I think about whether I’ll have to give up my job if the pain gets worse’
And they think these types of thoughts a lot, even lying awake at night unable to sleep.
However a quarter of the sample had quite different beliefs. They didn’t see the point in ruminating and often took action to take their mind off the pain.
The team are now doing further research to find out whether cognitive training could help the ruminators shift thinking styles and if so, whether that would reduce their pain.
If this strikes a chord with you, try this:
- Notice your thought patterns. Tune in like an observer, without getting too involved. Watch the ebb and flow of thoughts. Pay particular attention to when you stop ruminating. Be aware that the thoughts may come, but they also go again. Then the next time you feel yourself taking a worry thought off the shelf, see if you can stop, breathe and put it back. You can always worry in a moment, but just for now, can you stay in neutral?
- Don’t rue, do! When the worry thoughts start, make a conscious choice to change your state. If you’re sitting, stand up. Look out of the window. Say hello to your pet. Pull some stupid faces. Yawn and blink. If you can, go for a brisk walk. Count backwards from 50 as fast as you can. Sing ‘Jerusalem’. It doesn’t matter, just get active.
- Take every ‘glass-half-empty’ thought about the future and turn it into a positive about today. You don’t have to believe it, just do it as a mental exercise. So ‘I’m worried my pain will get worse’ becomes ‘I managed my pain today’.
Good luck, let me know how you get on.