It’s easy to entertain worst-case scenarios when you’re in pain: Did my doctor miss something serious? Is my condition getting worse? Will I become incapacitated? Will this excruciating pain last forever? Besides making you feel distressed and anxious, “catastrophizing” about pain can actually make it worse. Negative thoughts can trigger muscle tension and “increase pain by increasing inflammatory substances in the body,” explains Ronald Kulich, Ph.D., attending psychologist at the Massachusetts General Center for Pain Medicine in Boston. “Pain is processed in the brain, and there’s a wealth of research that suggests pain can be influenced by your thoughts.”
Solution: Remind yourself that chronic pain often comes and goes, and the fluctuations don’t necessarily mean anything. Focus on what you can do to relieve flare-ups: adjust your medication (with your doctor’s help), use relaxation techniques (like meditation) or apply heat or cold. It also helps to distract yourself by engaging in an engrossing activity.