Like the sayings, “Think positive” and “Look on the brighter side,” cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), effective for chronic pain and depression, promotes the replacement of dysfunctional thoughts for more positive ones.
Our mind, a source of thoughts and feelings, allows us to experience sensations, including those of pain. Even though pain signals are processed by our brain, they are heavily influenced by our mind, making connection between the mind and body quite interesting. Feelings of hopelessness, associated with depression and chronic pain, enhance negative thinking, which can intensify pain signals and increase feelings of distress and despair. This persistent process can leave you stuck in negativity.
CBT focuses on altering distorted belief, attitude, and expectation patterns by substituting a new response to a given stimulus and shows individuals how to evaluate things in a more balanced manner. Rather than perceiving things as either black or white, good or bad, or sick or healthy, one can begin to see shades of gray. Good days are noticed amongst the bad ones, and resentment and pessimism begin to fade.
Three principles of CBT are to recognize the problems, to offer retraining of coping skills, and to teach the patient how to apply these skills in everyday life with relaxation training, activity pacing, advance scheduling, cognitive restructuring, problem solving, visual imagery, distraction strategies and goal setting.
Having an unhealthy attitude can impair rationality, complicate adaptability, and create inflexibility and negativity. However, being optimistic, focusing on the positive, using a support system, scheduling time for fun, and laughing can help you challenge life’s obstacles, such as the pain you are experiencing. CBT can train you to how to repeat short positive statements called “affirmations” to yourself such as “It could have been worse” or “I can get through this,” as well as “automatic thoughts or self-talk” such as “I can do it” or “I am stronger than this.” This type of training can change your thought, perception, and response process, by reframing your mind.
The fact is that having a positive mindset is important, especially for those who have suffered a trauma such as a car accident, surgery, chronic illness or constant pain. It has been widely observed that, those who are optimistic improve more quickly and suffer less, than others whose “self-talk” is filled with “I am worthless,” “Nothing ever goes right for me” or “My whole day is ruined.”
Fortunately, studies have shown that combining CBT with analgesics and/or anti-depressants can offer relief to sufferers of chronic pain with or without depression and put them back in control.
The key is to realize that only you can change yourself, not other people, and that some situations cannot be changed. However, you can change the way you react to them.