Ten Reasons It’s Not “All in Your Head”

Author| Beverly Thorn, PhD

from Beverly E. Thorn, PhD

  1. The brain is the master organ that processes pain signals from the body. The brain processes pain signals as sensations, emotions, and thoughts (not just pure sensation).
  2. Thoughts and emotions can make the experience of pain much worse, or much more manageable. Thoughts and emotions directly influence the pain signals coming into the body.
  3. Short-term pain can often be completely eliminated with medical treatment (surgery, medication). Chronic pain is much more complex and usually cannot be completely eliminated.
  4. The brain becomes more sensitive to pain signals with chronic pain. This is why you might be more sensitive to pain signals than other people after living with pain for a long time. But you can learn ways to help lower the “pain thermostat” of the brain.
  5. Chronic pain is a chronic illness. Like diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma, chronic pain needs long-term management, including lifestyle changes as well as medical treatment.
  6. Managing chronic pain requires a team of healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, and behavioral healthcare providers who have special training in chronic disease management. Behavioral healthcare providers (like specially trained psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, or social workers) understand the importance of thoughts, emotions, and lifestyle management on chronic pain.
  7. Learning to pace your activities, but staying active, and making sure you continue enjoyable activities, are important parts of lifestyle management.
  8. Depression, anxiety, and anger are common emotions in response to chronic pain. Getting help coping with these emotions is an important part of managing chronic pain.
  9. Negative thoughts in response to chronic pain are very common. Learning to notice unhelpful thoughts and changing your relationship to those thoughts are important to chronic pain management.
  10. You’re not “crazy” – you have a chronic illness called chronic pain. Managing that illness takes a team of involved and caring experts, including you!