Living well with pain and illness: part two
Hello and welcome to my latest blog as part of my series in living well with pain and illness.
In these blogs I will be working my way through some of the ideas and techniques that I have found useful. From my personal experience of having chronic pain and my professional experience of working with clients who have chronic pain and other long-term illnesses.
One idea that I talk about a lot with clients and one that will be the focus of this blog post is the negativity bias.
Our brains are literally hard wired to focus on the negative, as human beings we notice the negative events more readily than positive ones and we will tend to dwell upon them:
Our tendency to pay more attention to negative events and overlook the positive things is likely a result of our evolution, where being alert to negative events and potential danger is a matter of life or death.
Why would we appreciate lovely flowers, when we may be eaten by a predator! Those who paid more attention to danger were those who were likely to survive and therefore to pass on their genes, that made them more attentive to danger.
As modern day human beings we are less likely to be eaten by predators, however, the brain is still hard wired to seek out the negative at every opportunity and to protect us from danger.
In the context of my work as a counsellor, this danger can present as acute, or chronic pain. Not only do you have to contend with the threat from physical pain, but this pain is likely to bring up a whole host of uncomfortable thoughts and emotions too.
Some common thoughts and emotions may be:
Why you? What have you done to deserve this level of pain and suffering?
Maybe you feel isolated because of your condition. Maybe you are no longer able to go out and socialise with your friends and family due to your condition. Or it is difficult as a parent to keep up with your children and play with them, or care for them in the way that you would like to.
Feeling grief for having a body that maybe doesn't look, or function how you want it to.
Maybe you feel sad for things that you can no longer do due to your condition, whether this be a sport, or particular past time that you used to enjoy. Maybe you can no longer work, or study due to your condition.
You may experience periods of depression. Maybe you have lost hope that things can ever get better. Especially if the pain and symptoms that you experience have been there for a long time and no treatments seem to have helped. Or every test that you have comes back negative, so there is seemingly no cause for your pain.
> Fear for the future
Maybe you fear that your condition will get worse over-time, could you end up in a wheelchair, bed bound, housebound. Will you be unable to work and provide for yourself and your family etc...
> Regrets about the past
Maybe you regret things that you have done in the past and constantly replay these things in your mind. Wishing you could have done things differently. Maybe you feel like somehow you are to blame?
Maybe you experience guilt for being a burden on your friends and family. This guilt can feel like a heavy weight dragging you down.
I'm sure that I could go on and on with this list...
However, in reading it I'm sure like me you may be thinking, with all that negativity going on, how on earth are you meant to see any positives, let alone focus on them long enough to allow your brain, via neuroplasticity, to rewire itself and to begin to focus more on the positive experiences.
This is where I would like to share the following fantastic Ted Talk by Dr Rick Hanson on hard-wiring happiness. I hope by watching this Ted Talk it will inspire you to begin to explore focusing on the positive. It won't take away your pain over-night, however the practice that Rick Hanson introduces has the potential to transform your suffering. You can open up your viewpoint from focusing and dwelling purely on your condition and the pain and suffering, to include some of the positives in your life. With this you are not only including the positives, but you are taking them in and fully experiencing them.
Much like watching this sunset and fully immersing yourself and soaking in the positive experience.
A quote from Rick Hanson that is very helpful in remembering the negativity bias and it's impact on the brain is:
Here's the Ted Talk. I hope that you enjoy. I would love to know what you think and whether you have used this practice before in order to focus on the positive and hard wire happiness :)
Until next time,