Ask an expert: Chronic pain and mental health

Ask an expert: Chronic pain and mental health

Pain is something we’ll all experience at some point in our lives.

And while most would rather avoid it, it serves an important, though uncomfortable, purpose. Pain is a way your body lets you know that something is wrong, telling your brain to stop what you are doing and seek treatment for your ailment or injury.

But for 3.37 million people living with chronic pain, there are a few added layers1. Alongside the varying physical and medical impacts of prolonged pain, experiencing it with such frequency can make it difficult to accomplish everyday tasks, adding a significant amount of stress and potentially triggering a negative mindset. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Tracey Zielinski, “stress also plays a role in the experience and perception of pain, so the more stress people are experiencing, the worse their pain tends to feel.”

While each person’s lived experience of chronic pain is unique, Dr. Zielinski says there are things you can do to maximise your quality of life.


Set achievable goals

Her first tip is to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. “Set achievable goals and problem-solve what you need to do to make them happen”, she explains.

“Step away from all-or-nothing language. Telling yourself, “I can’t do that” will absolutely make it true. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and you won’t be able to do that. Instead, if you are frustrated and struggling with something, rather than saying, “I can’t” try instead saying, “It’s difficult” or “I’m struggling”. This will help your brain focus and start problem-solving instead of simply giving up.”


Listen to your body

It’s also important to listen to your body and pace yourself.

“If you are having a “bad” day in terms of pain, give yourself permission to do only what absolutely needs to be done. If you are having a “good” day in terms of pain, be careful not to overdo it …Be patient and kind to yourself.”


Encourage and empower

And for those looking to support a family member, partner or friend that experiences chronic pain, Dr. Zielinski says there are a number of ways to reframe their thinking and help them feel supported.

“Be careful not to treat them too much as a ‘patient’. If you do everything for them while you are with them, you may, in fact, be enabling their sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Encourage them to do as much for themselves as they safely can.”

“Quality of life is an important concept to get them to think about – what would enhance the quality of my life? Try to encourage a positive attitude. Help them focus on the good things in their lives - past, present and future.”

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.  


About the expert



Dr Tracey Zielinski is a clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience working with adult clients presenting with a range of medical and mental health issues.

Tracey has recently published her first book, Get it Together Forever! The Ultimate Guide to Stepping into Control of Your Own Life. She is particularly passionate about educating people around the earlier identification and management of stress which she believes has become a silent assassin in our complex and modern world.

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