Coping With Chronic Pain and Stress

By learning how thoughts and actions influence our feelings and coping we can learn to reduce and better manage life’s emotional challenges.  The figure below is the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) paradigm for negative automatic thoughts leading to painful emotions and resulting in unhelpful (actions) coping strategies.  The thinking process is repetitious and circular, whereby thoughts lead to feelings that lead to actions continuously ( I could not add directional arrows to my diagram).   Thoughts, behaviors, and emotions affect our physical experiences and sensations, including emotional pain, and vice versa.  How we think also affects the severity, intensity, and duration of chronic pain episodes, emotional pain, stress levels, and disease progression (i.e., diabetes, terminal cancer, arthritis,  back pain, etc.)


                                          “I’m not achieving enough”


                                         w/NEGATIVE THINKING

ACTIONS = “Isolate”                                             FEELINGS = “Fear”

This approach teaches us ways to change thinking and behaviors to best cope with stress/pain and reduce negative thoughts.  You may believe that talking about your fears is a weakness.  Or you may perceive that other people believe these things, causing you to feel embarrassed and angry.  Either way, you might hide your fears from others, criticize or make excuses for yourself, and smile when you are feeling sad.  It is estimated that a deep thinker (perfectionist) has somewhere around 60,000 automatic thoughts per day.  Research shows that for most people, 80% of thoughts are negative and repetitious.  As the saying goes, “It is a bad neighborhood in my head and I try not to go there unsupervised.”

You may believe that there is nothing that can be done to stop your negative thinking and to better cope with stress.   Learning to tune-in to ourselves, learning to listen to ourselves takes practice. You may be dependent on others for approval in order to cope or don’t talk to anyone about your concerns.  Lastly, you may believe that you need to get rid of your problems on your own in order to live your life.  You believe that you have to endure alone. These beliefs are mental traps!!!

Thinking you are not achieving enough during these unpredictable times can be stressful and tiring and this can make it hard to think clearly, leading you to feel frustrated and hopeless.  However, it is possible to improve your mood and to learn to cope effectively with your problems that remain unresolved.  By learning to focus on the things you have control over, you can change parts of your reality by choosing how you will think and behave.

 Total reality is made up of at least the following parts:

1) What you see, hear, and can measure, 2) how others think and act, 3) how you think and feel, and 4) what you do.

EXAMPLE:    Different responses to negative thinking and stress can produce many types of  “realities.”


My thoughts tell me I’m going to lose everything, I’m  not good  enough, and I must be worthless.

HOW OTHERS THINK AND ACT                                               1.  Supportive

2.  Dismissing

3.  Critical


HOW YOU THINK (you have a choice)                                    1.  This is what my mind does.

2.  I can change my thoughts.

3.  I can’t stand it!

WHAT YOU DO (you have a choice)                                        1.  Isolate

2.  Get angry with others.

3.  Appreciate what is good in my life.

4.  Learn techniques to cope effectively with stress.

Negative thoughts may be interfering with your life by keeping you from doing the things you want to do.  It is important to remember you do have some control over your thinking.  You may feel vulnerable and powerless when negative feelings appear.  But keep in mind (excuse the pun) that you can learn to notice your thoughts, feel your feelings, figure out if there’s something you need to do, and then go on with your life.  Life works best when you take charge of making change in your thinking.


Thank you for reading this article.  My learning journey with chronic physical pain is a result of my experience with phantom limb pain.  I was graced with the gift of self-acceptance upon realization that my forearm was amputated.  Before my limb loss, I sacrificed my emotional and spiritual well-being for perfectionism and looked to others for approval at the cost of trusting my intuition and developing my self-worth.  My drive for perfection was crushed along with my arm.  I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to put an end to self-created emotional pain.  And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.


2 thoughts on “Coping With Chronic Pain and Stress

  1. I love this post, I think everyone who suffers from chronic pain should be exposed to this information – and probably a good deal of the rest of the population too! I’m just finishing up a pain management course, and one of the sessions went over this exact topic. It has helped me tremendously. 🙂

    • Hello RALemonade,

      Thanks for your kind comments, coping well with chronic pain is not for wimps. I had excruciating phantom limb pain everyday for several years and eliminated my pain through visual feedback with mirrors. Using mirrors might help with your Rheumatoid Arthritis pain. I just completed a 3-year controlled trial using mirrors for phantom limb pain with veterans and our combat soldiers. You can read my blog on instructionns for using mirror therapy. Thanks again for connecting.


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