No one likes to experience pain, injury, limitations, or any chronic problem that interferes with our ability to be fully functional. Many things can stop one from becoming healthy and healing from injury and pain problems. Recovering from any type of chronic health problem requires understanding a number of factors.

Fear is a natural response. When we are in the midst of a crisis we tend to “regress” emotionally and feel vulnerable and dependent. Crises, traumas, or any change in the body causes the natural response of feeling overwhelmed, fearful, and highly anxious. Just because it is normal to be fearful and anxious does not mean that we should let it rule our lives and stop your progress toward being healthy and functioning.

Fear & Anxiety As A Blocking Response

The problem is that when we “let fear run through our lives and bodies,” we become “held hostage” by our fears. The more one fears a problem, the more helpless and overwhelmed the person will feel. Sometimes we fear moving or doing anything which causes us to “freeze up more” and become even more de-conditioned.

Catastrophizing Negative Thoughts Predicts Pain & Disability

  • A study in the journal of Pain, 77 (1998), 253-260, by Sullivan, M., et. al., “Catastrophizing, pain and disability in patients with soft-tissue injuries,” studied patients who had been injured and suffered persistent pain problems.
  • The results suggested that patients with negative, overwhelming, “sky is falling,” catastrophizing thoughts (“Oh My God,” “I can’t take it anymore,” “I’ll never get better,” “Oh, My God,” etc.) reported more intense pain, felt they were more disabled, and could not work.
  • Catastrophizing contributed to the prediction of disability over and above the actual level of pain intensity. We ended up never getting better and staying. When this happens, you end up stuck, in more pain, and become disabled even further. Such patients never benefit from any help in treatment, due to their overwhelming fears.
  • The issues of Catastrophizing throughts was also studied with similar findings for patients with osteoarthritic patients in the journal of Pain, 87 (2000), 325-334, by Keef, Francis J, et. al., “The relationship of gender to pain, pain behavior, and disability in osteoarthritis patients: the role of catastrophizing.”
  • The results of this study suggested that catastrophizing makes the patient feel and act more disabled, overwhelmed, and having more problems ever overcoming their problems.
  • One’s fears were also connected with an increase in disability even separate from the levels of depression and anxiety.
  • Obsessing, fearing, ruminating about pain (i.e., thinking about it all the time), and fearing that the pain was getting worse, were the strongest predictor of pain and long-term disability and the inability to improve and get healthy again.

Moving Toward What We Expect

  • The “psychology of growth and change” relies heavily on our expectations and fears.
  • This is because we “tend to move toward what we expect and become what we fear.”
  • As a result, our own health is based on our positive expectations.
  • If we fear an outcome, we are actually setting it up to be achieved.
  • We have to see risks and problems as opportunities for growth and change.
  • To change we have to start seeing the positive outcomes, let go of negative self-talk, and imagine how things are going to work out even though the situation may be difficult at the present time.

The Desire For a Total Cure

  • One of the problems faced by chronic pain patients is that they feel they must “be on the search for a cure” and a way to solve all their problems.
  • There is a desire to “return to the way it use to be” so that the body can be used again without any restrictions.
  • Accepting the reality of the situation, limitations, and that “something has made major changes in one’s life,” needs to be acknowledged.
  • Remember that the most important thing to know in pain management techniques is that “management” is the magic word. Chronic pains are managed rather than cured! This requires knowledge and the development of active self-care skills.
  • Research by Michael Sullivan, Windy Rogers, and Irving Kirsch, entitled “Catastrophizing, Depression and Expectancies for Pain and Emotional Distress” in the 2001 issue of the Journal of Pain, 91:1-2, 147-154, suggests that the best way of decreasing pain and emotional distress is through interventions that specifically target catastrophic thinking/fear patterns and thoughts.
  • In the 2002 Journal of Pain, Michael Sullivan,, presents research findings in an article entitled “An experimental investigation of the relation between catastrophizing and activity intolerance,” 100:1-2, 47-53, found that catastrophizing predicted reductions in weight lifted even after controlling for pain and negative moods. Catastrophizing was associated with activity intolerance associated with pain.
  • However, if you let your fears get in the way, it is like having a panic attack in the middle of a lake. The result of any panic is that one quickly sinks to the bottom and loses their life.
  • Fear, anxiety, negative thinking and panic responses causes the body to tighten up, increase muscle spasms, pain, exhaustion, fatigue and difficulties in sleeping.
  • To change you have to make major adjustments in your life to focus on whatever you need to do to get healthy.
  • Other members of the family have to allow you to focus on what you need to do to get healthy.
  • Pain management is a “process” that happens over time. Progress will go up and down for a while as you “learn” new ways of dealing with the problems and find what works and what gets in the way of your progress.
  • If you stay in fear you will “frighten away” professionals who will just start to “give up” on you because they know that you are “letting yourself sink deeper into helplessness!”

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