- by Daniel
Learn To Accept Your Pain And Negative Thoughts To Avoid Anger And Frustration
It's all too easy to get angry and frustrated at persistent back pain, so rather than getting stressed you need to learn to accept it instead.
Having to live with persistent back pain is hard work.
So it's no surprise that anger and frustration are so common among sufferers.
And according to a 2012 review of studies into anger and chronic pain this anger stems from 3 things:
So how you think about your pain has a big impact on it's power.
However, if you find that you are becoming angry and frustrated yourself by the constant nagging pain in your back, then you need to address it.
Because allowing yourself to become angry and stressed will only make your pain worse.
Not to mention putting on a strain on your relationships with your loved ones, whose support you need to be able to get through it.
And both of these can be effective.
However, in this article I'm going to focus on a 3rd option.
Which is learning how to accept your pain and the negative thoughts that come with it rather than struggling against them.
How Does Accepting Your Pain & Negative Thoughts Help?
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on accepting your pain and negative thoughts rather than struggling to control them.
And this approach has been shown in various studies to reduce anger and increase the quality of life for people with chronic pain.
Now acceptance may appear to go against the whole 'fight back against back pain' motto that this site is based on.
But it's all about fighting smartly.
As constantly struggling against your pain and negative thoughts is only going to make your back problems worse.
So like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the acceptance approach also aims to reduce the effects that negative thoughts about pain have on your behavior.
But rather than reframing these negative thoughts, you instead learn to accept that you will experience pain and that negative thoughts will automatically come with it.
And by accepting that these thoughts will come you can be aware of them but choose not to engage them.
Which means they will have little to no impact and won't get in the way of the things you want to do.
Because to live a fulfilling and satisfying life you need to be able to work towards goals that are important to you.
And there is evidence that by accepting pain rather than trying to control it you can continue with the activities you enjoy despite being in pain.
For example one study tested the performance of two groups of people with chronic lower back pain over 7 different physical tasks.
And the group that were using pain acceptance strategies showed a 16% improvement in their performance.
However, the group that were using pain control strategies showed an 8% decrease in their performance.
So the people with back pain who used pain acceptance strategies had a higher tolerance for pain and were better able to carry on with their activities.
In other words, acceptance methods were better at keeping them active.
So just think of the difference that this kind of thinking could make to your life.
For instance, how many times do you put things off that are important to you just because you think the pain will be too much to bear?
This could be anything from attending a friend’s wedding, spending time outdoors with your family, pursuing a hobby, or going on an adventurous holiday.
And how angry does it make you when you're stuck at home while everyone else is out there having fun?
So if you could learn to accept the fact that you will feel pain but without allowing it to stop you wouldn’t that be a great thing?
Well this is what Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is all about.
Now it takes a bit of mental practice, flexibility, and awareness to accomplish.
But there are 3 techniques you can to use to help you which are:
1. Accepting Your Pain & Negative Thoughts
It can be easy to misinterpret acceptance of pain and the negative thoughts that come with it as being passive and giving up.
However, this couldn't be further from the truth.
As it's really the process of empowering yourself by knowing that the pain will be there, expecting the negative thoughts to come, but not allowing either of them to influence your mood or behaviors.
So you acknowledge their presence but choose not to engage with them.
And this will stop you becoming angry and frustrated with yourself and your situation.
As when you accept persistent pain as a part of your life you can learn how to manage and get on with things so much better.
And it's also really important not to get stuck in negative ways of thinking.
As becoming angry, anxious, and stressed will only make you more tense and make your back pain worse.
So by expecting negative thoughts you can allow them to happen, observe them when they arrive, but keep a distance from them and let them pass.
Because all thoughts come and go, good and bad.
And it's only when you engage with them that they gain power and affect your behavior and mood.
So while negative thoughts are a natural side-effect of living with pain and you will never be totally free of them.
By accepting that they will occur alongside your pain you can greatly reduce their impact.
And by doing this you can eliminate the struggle against pain and reduce the anger and frustration that comes with it.
So the next time you find yourself feeling angry or sorry for yourself take a step back and see it for what it is.
And learn to let it go.
2. Being Mindful
Being mindful is a great way of being able to observe what is happening within your mind and body.
And through doing this you can learn how to become aware of negative thoughts and pain but still keep your distance from them.
So it teaches you to be aware of what's happening in every moment and just allowing it to be without making any judgement on it.
This allows you to step away from your pain and view it from the outside rather than allowing it to overwhelm you.
And this can give you a more balanced relationship with your pain, rather than reacting to it in a negative way which only causes anger and further pain.
So this is a great tool to have for people that live with chronic pain.
For instance, one study found that a group of people with chronic pain that practiced mindfulness were more able to accept their pain than another group that were treated with physiotherapy and medication alone.
So being mindful can really help you to accept your pain experience as it:
Now mindfulness takes a bit of practice and isn't the easiest thing to learn on your own.
However, there are certain things that can help you such as the Headspace app that runs you through guided mindfulness meditations.
Or through books such as 'Living Well With Pain & Illness' by Vidyamala Burch.
But becoming present and mindful will really help you to become more positive and less angry and frustrated.
3. Identifying Your Life Values
So now you have learned how to accept that pain and negative thoughts will happen without allowing them to take over your mood and behaviors.
But how does that help when you're having a particularly bad pain day?
I mean when everything feels like a massive struggle how can you distance yourself and carry on regardless?
Because it’s not easy.
But one way is to view the activity you want to do as being important enough to you that it will override your negative thoughts and feelings of pain.
Sounds a bit far-fetched? Well let’s take endurance athletes as an example.
When someone is running a marathon they are constant pain after a certain point and every fiber in their body is screaming at them to stop.
So why do they keep going?
Because they expected the pain that is now coming and they accept it when it arrives.
But they don't give in to it.
Instead they focus on getting to the finish line and this goal is so important to them that they don't give in to the pain.
So while they expect the pain to come and they know it’s going to be there, the importance of the goal overrides the pain that their body is feeling.
They are aware of the pain but they don't allow it to be their main focus or to affect their behavior.
Because if for just one second they give in to the demands of the pain then they are finished.
So they keep going and the pain doesn't stop them from doing what they want to do.
Now this is an extreme example and I'm not suggesting you need to take up marathon training anytime soon!
But you can use this principle to keep you motivated to keep doing the things that are important to you.
To do this you need to work out what is really important for you and it helps if you can define your life goals.
So for example, ask yourself the following questions:
Yes I know this is getting pretty deep!
And these questions aren't always the easiest ones to answer.
But by doing this you can work out what you need to do to give your life meaning and purpose.
And once these life goals are in place, your daily activities can be viewed as moving you another step closer towards achieving them.
This will help you to accept and tolerate the pain when you are attempting an everyday activity as you will be working towards something of far greater importance to you.
For example, if a life goal of yours is to be an active and fun grandparent then an afternoon in the park with the grandchildren will be easier to handle than if you think of it only in terms of how much pain you may feel on that day.
Or if you want to master a second language with the aim of relocating abroad, you can take on and handle the extra hours and commute to your Spanish class rather than cancelling due to expecting to feel more pain afterwards.
I guess these are also general life skills.
But having long-term goals will make it easier to accept your pain without letting it stop you from doing the things you want to do.
And by doing this you're also focusing on the opportunities in everyday situations rather than feeling negative and self-pitying.
Which will help you to stay more active, positive and in control of your life.
Rather than becoming angry, frustrated and resentful
I hope that you can gain some of the benefits of accepting your pain and negative thoughts that I have gone over here.
Because by giving up the struggle you can greatly reduce pains power over you.
And this can help you to do more in life and keep a positive mental attitude.
So try to stay mindful, work towards life goals that give you a sense of purpose and meaning, and accept and observe your pain without letting it overwhelm you.
This way you can stay in control and be far less likely to become angry and frustrated because of it.