Have you ever noticed the “little voice in your head”? I mean, have you REALLY paid close attention to that voice in your head? Our automatic thoughts run through our minds frequently – if not almost constantly for some of us. People who suffer from chronic pain often have thoughts that are negative, pessimistic, and self-deprecating.
Pain greatly impacts our nervous system. Feelings of stress, fear, or frustration are common in people with chronic pain, as well as negative thoughts. Negative thoughts and emotions cause our brain to release the stress hormone cortisol, which can further increase our pain. Chronic stress and pain cause us to avoid some of our usual activities and to do things that can lead to even more pain. We tend to feel the most stressed out when we feel we can’t cope.
Cognitive restructuring and mindfulness practices are tools that can help BREAK this cycle, enabling us to better manage our stress as well as our pain!
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT has been around for decades and has been proven to be a very effective therapy for dealing with all sorts of issues including pain, anxiety, depression, grief, loss, and substance abuse. It is a form of talk therapy that oftentimes involves journaling our thoughts in order to identify patterns of negative thinking. The idea of CBT is that our thoughts affect how we feel and in turn, our feelings affect how we behave. And as it turns out, a lot of our thoughts are inaccurate, not true, flawed, unproductive and not helpful at all!
Years ago, our physicians and therapists concluded that treating chronic pain without addressing the mental health consequences that can occur was just not doing the trick. As much as we may try, we cannot compartmentalize our pain from our emotions. Each one plays into the other. At iSpine Clinics, our providers have undergone special training in the use of cognitive behavioral coaching (CBC) principles to help our patients develop better coping strategies. While we don’t claim to be mental health therapists, our doctors and therapists have a deep understanding of how pain and emotions intertwine. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I can’t go for that walk, my back will be miserable. I’m such a failure,” or “I can’t clean the house because I’ll end up with an awful headache. My friends will think terribly of me because my house is so filthy.” Another one I commonly hear my patients say is, “My dad had a terrible back his whole life and that is going to happen to me, too.”
As humans, we base our thoughts upon previous experiences. For the most part, that’s good! If we touch the stove as a child and get burned, we’re likely to avoid doing that again. If I went for a walk last week and then my back hurt for days afterward, I may think “I better not do that again.” But wait! That is not a fact! If you plan for your back to hurt – it most likely will. However, if you think to yourself, “I’m going for a walk – perhaps not as far this time – and it will go much better,” the odds of it going well go up significantly.