A New Year for many people brings a sense of hopefulness and the potential for change; that’s why resolutions are often made at this time of year. (How many of those however fail within the first month? It’s such a well-known phenomenon that it’s been beat to death on TV comedies, movies, etc.) In 20 years of working with people who struggle with chronic pain, I’ve learned that a new year doesn’t necessarily bring hope. When every day seems to be controlled by discomfort and pain, sometimes there seems little room for optimism.
And yet, there may be no more important or powerful tool available to us for managing and potentially even overcoming chronic pain than hope. We’ve known for a long time that in chronic pain, the components of hopelessness, and perceived helplessness are among the strongest contributors to suffering. And while we certainly encourage growth in acceptance and mindfulness, we also advocate the development of “self-efficacy,” beginning with cultivating a mindset of personal responsibility for – and control of – health.
People who begin to value their bodies and begin to reduce the toxic substances (whether that be tobacco, soda pop, potato chips, etc.) and toxic behaviors (poor commitment to sleep hygiene and exercise) – and replace these injurious factors with beneficial habits universally experience a better life. And this isn’t only because they experience less physical pain, although that’s certainly part of it. The biggest benefit often comes in improved self-esteem, sense of empowerment, and reduction in anxiety, hopelessness and helplessness. Study after study have shown us that people who have been blessed to develop this mindset and lifestyle seem to suffer the least with chronic pain.
There are two essential ingredients I know of for successful resolutions. One is hope (which in this context includes self-efficacy: the hope and belief that what you think and do matters.) The other is an absolute conviction that the effort is critical, and so are the consequences of failing to keep that resolution.
This year, why not resolve to value yourself – body, mind and heart soul and spirit – as an entity worth nurturing and protecting? We believe that you are. And make a small commitment – something you know you can keep, that will help you build momentum in a new pathway of better living, and hope!