One aspect of working with individuals suffering chronic pain and disease is to enhance their ability to deal with negative thinking and misery. For example, we know that to advance one’s understanding of the condition, pain and influences upon the pain enhances coping by changing the meaning of pain. The meaning is a vital aspect of the problem as this is determined by the beliefs of the individual that in turn drive thinking and behaviours that affect outcomes. A further potent way of tackling negative thinking is mindfulness or focused attention training that develop emotional regulation skills and one’s ability to control where the spotlight of attention lies.
It is important to be able to deal with negative thinking and to be able to continue to perform despite the feelings that arise–remembering that these are normal feelings that guide our actions; it is when the normal fluctuations of mood become prolonged that there can be an issue.
Beyond this, we must develop skills to cultivate positive emotions, engagement, meaning, accomplishment and relationships. These are the tenets of positive psychology defined by Martin Seligman. Integrating these components of wellness into a treatment and coaching programme for chronic pain and disease is a potent way of optimising outcomes and improving quality of life, in particular around the cognitive and emotional dimensions manifesting as anxiety and depression.
A simple exercise to develop positive emotion at the end of each day is to write down three things that you have done well and why they were good.