One of the last things someone with a chronic illness or chronic pain wants to hear is that they should think more positively. After all, it’s hard to have a positive attitude when you are in terrible pain or feel horrible and it may feel like some of the blame for how you feel is being placed on you when told this. However, studies have shown that having a positive attitude can help people with chronic illness/pain both mentally and physically. It makes sense, right? We know that chronic stress, anger and other negative emotions can have a detrimental impact on our health and lead to problems with brain and cardiac function. We know that it can lead to wear and tear of our bodies.
That said, it is unrealistic to expect people dealing with chronic pain or a chronic illness to have a positive attitude all of the time. It’s just not possible. In fact, being cheerful all of the time when dealing with a chronic condition can sometimes be linked to denial of the illness, which can lead to negative psychological consequences.
In my personal and professional experience, I’ve found that most people suffering from chronic pain and chronic illness want acknowledgement that what they are going through is real and that it is okay not to be okay sometimes. Pressure to be optimistic all of the time can lead to increased negative emotions. By allowing sufferers of chronic conditions to experience the uncertainty and frustrations that come along with having a chronic illness or chronic pain, family, friends and loved ones are actually making way for more positive feelings because not only can the patient express their feelings during difficult times rather than holding it in, the pressure to be optimistic all of the time is gone.
It is important for people with chronic conditions to find a good balance in their lives. It is also important for them to focus on what they have control over (diet, exercise, taking their medications, who is in charge of their treatment), rather than what they don’t (disease progression). Feeling in control leads to more positive emotions.
So, is it really important to have a positive attitude when dealing with a chronic condition? Yes. But it is also important to be able to feel and express the anger, frustration and uncertainty as well.