Positive Emotions Can Help Fight Chronic Pain

Positive Emotions Can Help Fight Chronic Pain

A University of Michigan researcher told the 8th Annual Women in Pain Conference that positive language and emotions can have a real effect on chronic pain patients.

Afton L. Hassett, Psy.D.

Afton L. Hassett, Psy.D.

Afton Hassett, Ph.D. was speaking on the topic: Resilience in the Face of Pain to about 100 persons attending in Los Angeles and a world-wide audience on the internet.

She said that 30% of patients that I’ve studied are resilient. She understands why that number isn’t higher.

“Chronic pain patients do what they have to do in order to survive,” she said. “They have to go to work, pay the bills, and take care of their families.”

And one important thing gets lost, she said and that is the “joy” in life.

She outlined a number of things that she recommends chronic pain patients can do to enhance resilience.

  1. Create a social support round robin: More social interaction and engaging with friends and even people you don’t know is a key step.
  2. Keep a Gratitude Diary: She suggests that your write down three things you are grateful for each day, and make sure there are three different things each day. “You start to appreciate everything from your family to sunshine.”
  3. Savor a Beautiful Day: Hassett says that chronic pain patients should set aside a block of time each day for their own pleasures. “It helps you focus on what you have.”
  4. Practice Intentional Kindness: Do one kind thing a day for yourself, a stranger and someone you know.
  5. Write 3 Good Things Every Day: Hassett said that concentrating not only the fact good things happened buy Why They Happened can promote resilience.

The focus of this year’s Women in Pain Conference was on the topic of resilience. It was sponsored by the non-profit For Grace which for a decade has championed the fight for better diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain in women.

The whole idea of resilience is receiving a lot of attention in research these days.

Stanford’s Drew Sturgeon, Ph.D, is conducting a study on the topic of resilience. (He has surveyed some readers of the National Pain Report). He is asking why do some people who suffer from chronic pain are able to stay productive while others are not? His study is being reviewed and should be ready for public discussion in the next few months.

He was also enthusiastic about the work of the conference.

“There’s no doubt we need more education about pain treatment in general, and the idea that so many women go to their doctors with genuine pain complaints and aren’t taken seriously is troubling- alliance with one’s healthcare provider is a valuable part of the treatment process,” he said.

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Authored by: Ed Coghlan

There are 10 comments for this article
  1. April Dawn at 10:47 pm

    It helps me a great deal to feel positive emotions when I am not overwhelmed by pain. Also, I feel positive emotions when the medically indicated pain medication I have been prescribed – by a doctor I have worked with for years – are not threatened by new laws written by people who either don’t understand and don’t care about how they are hurting people
    And For Judy Severson – I absolutely agree with you. And I am sorry you don’t have a prescribing doctor. Until I was prescribed pain adequate medications, I never left the house as I hurt too much. Now I at least can see my friends a few times a month, or go to some spiritual activities, and do more alternative healing methods. Without the pain medications all my social activities would not be possible. I still hurt a great deal, I still look all the time for other treatments as I can afford them financially – massage, acupuncture, and other natural treatments but it would all be impossible with pain medications.

  2. Corpusmentis at 2:34 pm

    Hi folks. I suffered chronic pain for 7 years and its finally going away after reading a book by Dr John E Sarno. if u type ”healing back pain pdf” into google u can access it free of spend $5 at Amazon. its no instant cure but he has identified why some people have CP and others don’t. The MDs don’t have the faintest clue and have ridiculed this great man. Senator Tom Harkin brought him to testify before congress in 2012 along with Sanders.
    60-70% of CP is curable(with a lot of hardwork)
    Also please check out my blog…he utterly changed my life.
    https://corpusmentis.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/the-quest-for-relief-from-chronic-pain/

  3. Patti at 6:32 pm

    April Dawn (what a beautiful name!) – thank you! Your words did lift my spirit; I could tell they were heartfelt. And thanks to this site, and everyone who posts here. Things are getting hard, and I don’t see them getting any better in the near future. I feel like all we have is each other. I know I rely heavily on the knowledge that I’m not alone in this painful situation, and I draw strength from hearing from others who are suffering but have found the means to get through one more day. I know I’m not alone in feeling sometimes that I’m just not going to make it. I read these stories about people genuinely crippled by pain, and the medical community no longer able to treat it, and it breaks my heart. But then someone surprises me, like what happened at my recent doctor’s visit, and someone like April Dawn gives me the gift of such kind words, and I start to hope that if I hang on a little longer, things might change. So that’s something, right?

  4. misti at 7:27 am

    good thoughts do not work for someone who has bones that are deteriorating along their whole spine. MS,Fibro… I have been told MS is not painful. Fibro at healthcare system I use eat right ,good thoughts and exercise and pain will go away.
    If I could swear I would.
    Good thoughts might help with some pain but it sure isn’t enough !! pain meds need to be used when you live in 24/7 pain.
    the war on addicts is all good and fine but the government has waged war on those of us who are suffering in pain.
    Doctors who want us to channel our good thoughts are not sharing our pain,or have not wore our shoes or they would be advocating other doctors and the government to treat us as humans with legitimate issues of pain that should be treated correctly and enough of undertreating us.or not treating us at all

  5. April Dawn at 11:30 pm

    Patti – I feel like you articulated perfectly – and it is healing for me to read it. It might not help with my physical pain but it certainly helps with my emotional pain – especially that pain caused by the on-going shaming – seemingly from all directions – that I can’t just “get over it” using some variation of changing my attitude. So I hope you can truly take this Thank you into your heart – that you did some people good today, people who suffer like you do. I hope you feel good about this – and know you are more than just your sickness.

  6. April Dawn at 11:22 pm

    I just want to thank the 3 women who gave comments. I feel exactly the same way. I attempted to comment, but it was rejected. I am trying again. Pain makes it very difficult to think clearly and articulate. I did my best to articulate. I am just grateful that some of our voices make it through and are heard. Thanks you so much for taking your precious time – the small amount of time one has that isn’t completely controlled by pain – to write up about the realities of the chronic pain crisis so many of us are experiencing. In my experience, if showing resilience or willpower or a better attitude (or so many other words that sound like “blame” to me), worked most of us would have been far better or cured a long time ago.

  7. Patti at 11:55 am

    This is the kind of thinking that’s the undoing of the treatment of chronic pain. You’re just not “resilient ” enough so therefore your pain must have an emotional cause; here, take these dangerous antidepressants. The most resilient person in the world is going to get worn down after 5, 10, 20 years of constant, severe pain. You don’t sleep. You can’t eat right. You never leave the house. Your only personal contact is when you’re forced to go out for a doctor’s appointment – and get treated like you’re just not being”resilient” enough. I saw a new person the other day at my neurologist’s office. She listened to me, did an actual physical exam, came up with some creative solutions and even got me to agree to a course of treatment I’m not crazy about because I didn’t want to disappoint her (a wheelchair; a new medication). Weirdly, I left in the best mood I’ve been in for a long time. The point is, a lot of us have run out of resilience. We can have it recharged easily enough, just a little validation and some empathy from the people charged with our health care. It takes the same amount of time as scowling at us and inferring we’re just not trying hard enough.

  8. Margo at 9:09 am

    Two years ago I realized that after 5 years with severe CRPS, I had two choices. Stay in bed for the rest of my life or get up and accept that I will be in pain forever. I was able to do this due to excellent pain specialists who worked with me to find the best treatments and adjust them when needed. I was feeling positive for the first time in years.
    I then moved to Massachusetts and it has been a nightmare. Due to the so called “opiate crisis” , I have been denied adequate care. I barely receive enough medication to make any difference and they will not do the nerve blocks that helped me so much. All this due to drug addicts.
    Yes, positive thinking is helpful, but it won’t work when you are suffering ftom a chronic disease that is one of the top 10 most painful per the McGill Pain Scale. I spend my time just surviving now. I’m in too much pain to do all those “positive” things. I’m scared and angry. I tore my eardrum 2 weeks ago and had a major infection. I was screaming.The pain, bad enough on its own, was amplified due to my disease. My PC refused to o.k. additional pain medication. That is just cruel. Where is the empathy? What do I have to do to prove I am in legitimate and excruciating pain and not a drug addict?
    I find it ironic that I can drink and smoke pot, but can’t get adequate treatment.
    When my pain is bearable, I will start happy thoughts again. I don’t see that happening any time soon. If a treatment works for m e, I should have access to it. In the long run, it benefits everyone. I get off disability, I can work again and I can stop being a burden to my elderly mother. Kind of hard to get those positive thoughts in when I am spending my time trying to manage my pain on my own.

  9. Judy Severson at 8:50 am

    All of these suggestions are well and good if you are able to be mobile. I leave my home only for doctor appointments. I am in pain 24/7, my day is spent on my couch trying to cope with the pain. I hurt to much to be social. My friends and family do not visit and I can’t visit them. My life is very isolated and I hate it. I have lost my hopes and dreams due to intractable pain.