Living with Chronic Pain

How to Manage Fear of Pain


Fear of pain can increase the perception of pain. Fear and anxiety can also lead to avoidance of activities associated with pain. Eventually, avoidance behaviors can cause emotional distress, physical deconditioning, and the inability to participate in activities. This can lead to more pain, which can lead to more fear, anxiety, and avoidance, creating a repetitive cycle.

The best way to break this cycle is to confront the fear of pain. Learning to manage fear may help control and reduce pain.

Tips for managing fear of pain

Five tips for managing fear and anxiety associated with pain include the following:

  1. Learn more about the diagnosis and prognosis. Both fear of the unknown and misinformation can both contribute to anxiety about pain. Accurate information provided directly from a medical professional helps eliminate any unknowns and misinformation, which helps alleviate fear.
  2. Try psychotherapy. Graded exposure therapy can help with overcoming fear of pain. To begin, an individual works with a trained therapist to create a hierarchical list of their feared activities. The individual is then gradually exposed to a moderately fearful activity until the pain-related fear is eliminated. This continues until the most fearful activities are successfully executed without overwhelming fear. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can also help reduce pain-related fears.
  3. Try mindfulness-based and mind-body relaxation techniques. Practicing mindfulness can help reduce levels of stress and anxiety, regardless of the cause. Examples of techniques that may be beneficial include meditation, yoga, and guided imagery.
  4. Think differently about pain. Excessive negative thinking about pain is not healthy. Rather than focusing on the pain an activity may induce, it’s beneficial to consider the benefits of the activity, such as improving strength and endurance. It may also be helpful to remember that pain does not always equal harm.
  5. Resume regular activity as soon as possible. Getting back to regular activities as quickly as possible (under the care of a medical professional) can help prevent physical deconditioning and the development of avoidance behavior.
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