Happy thoughts aren’t what come to mind when pain and stiffness are dragging you down, but forcing them into focus may help ease your pain.
Optimism counteracts sadness and fear – feelings that can heighten pain perception, says Burel Goodin, PhD, a psychologist and anesthesiologist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, who researches the link between pain and optimism. Because optimists believe their situations can improve, they are more likely to eat healthfully, exercise regularly and take other actions that lead to better health and less pain, he says.
Not feeling very upbeat? Take these steps to act your way to optimism.
Rewrite the story. Shift perspective from negative thoughts to encouraging possibilities. Has your doctor told you to rest? View it as an opportunity to catch up on your reading. Trying a new medication? It might be more effective for you. Feeling stiff today? There’s your excuse to go for a swim.
Look for the good. Optimists aren’t oblivious to the negatives in life, they just notice more of the positives, says Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. You can, too. Pause several times a day to enjoy a view, savor a meal, celebrate accomplishments and appreciate small kindnesses, such as someone holding a door for you.
Channel your inner Rocky Balboa. You’ve already bounced back from life’s challenges more than a few times. Reflect on those and remember how you prevailed. It will give you solid evidence you can do it again, Goodin says.
Look forward to tomorrow. Each night before bed, write down a few things that you are looking forward to the next day. If nothing comes to mind, schedule something you’ll enjoy. In a study of 77 people published in the October 2013 Journal of Positive Psychology, half wrote down three good things about the upcoming day and the others listed three upcoming events. The first group experienced less mental exhaustion and fewer negative feelings than the neutral group, who simply listed upcoming events.
Imagine your best life. Instead of ruminating about the difficulties of the day, visualize a brighter future. According to research in the March 2011 Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, people who spent five minutes a day imagining a better life, starting with the phrase, “In the future I will…,” felt significantly more optimistic than those who simply recalled what happened during the day.
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