It is not uncommon for chronic pain to be linked to depression. For example, 35% of the participants in one study who reported chronic pain were also depressed. Risk of depression was not associated with any particular pain type or site. Pain and depression seem to have a “reciprocal relationship”: they tend to feed upon each other; more pain can increase risk for depression and increases in depression can make pain feel worse. If you think you may be depressed, you may wish to talk with your primary care physician, therapist, or other health care provider. Even if you aren’t clinically depressed, your pain may dampen your mood and decrease your overall quality of life.
An important feature of both depression and pain is a tendency to focus on the negative, such as negative thoughts, feelings, experiences, and memories. It is easy to get stuck in a spiral of negativity. The more you notice the negative, the more negative your life will seem, and you will focus even more on what is negative… and you will feel worse and worse over time. You can help yourself to step out of the spiral of negativity. Noticing the simple, positive aspects of daily life can boost your mood and help you to turn away from the negative. Here are some examples:
- My dogs are sweet
- The sun feels good on my face
- I enjoyed talking to an old friend
- My arms are strong
- My hot shower felt good
- It felt good to help a friend
- I enjoyed a TV show
- I was able to take a nice walk
- My husband told me I looked pretty
- An old friend called me
- I enjoyed listening to the birds singing this morning
- I had coffee on the porch
- I saw an elderly couple taking a walk and holding hands
- It felt good to laugh at a joke
- I took some time to listen to music
- My neighbor’s flowers are starting to bloom
- It made me smile to see a young father playing with his toddler in the park
To get into the habit of noticing the positive, click here to open and print our Notice the Positive Monitoring Form Throughout the day, simply note down anything positive. Nothing is too small. And the positive thing doesn’t have to be something that happened to you. It can be something nice that you see, hear, or smell. If it is positive, make a note of it. This will help you to get out of the habit of focusing too much on the negative. It won’t make the negative disappear, but you will benefit by noticing what is positive. You may also want to share some of what you notice with family and friends. They will be happy to hear about the good in your life. To help build the habit of noticing the positive, you may want to remind yourself throughout the day by sending yourself a few texts or email reminders or just posting a few notes around the house.
Living with pain is a real challenge. Don’t make it more difficult than it has to be. Pain doesn’t have to cause sadness or depression. You can control your focus and reduce your risk of depression.
About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.