Lesson 2, Topic 1
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Learning the Skills of Acceptance

I-Engage May 1, 2021
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In this topic, you will learn skills to help you accept your chronic pain. Acceptance can allow you to shift your perspective about your current situation. Events that may seem negative can also be seen as opportunities. Opportunities for change, growth, new interests, and better understanding. These new opportunities come in different forms: small and large.

It may be helpful to write down a list of opportunities you can identify from your situation. This can help you change your focus from what you’ve lost to what you can gain. This exercise will help you start to see more opportunities and accept your situation.

A woman write in her notebook. She's writing about opportunities.

Acceptance is not the same as giving up or ignoring your pain. It’s an ongoing journey of change where you can recognise that your situation is difficult. It may not be what you would have chosen. However, you can start to look at yourself, your thoughts and feelings, and your future in a different, more helpful way.

Your journey to acceptance – Focus on what you can change

Changing your outlook on yourself and your future can be hard work and takes both time and willingness to let go

Many people with pain have been on a long journey to answer the ‘why pain?’ question. They have spent a lot of time seeking an explanation and solution for their pain. Now, we understand a lot more about pain, the brain, and pain-nerve networks. We know that chronic pain is lasting and rarely cured. 

When people with chronic pain focus on and obsess over trying to solve their pain, their pain systems can become more sensitive. This does more harm than good, even though it feels like the right approach.

A piece of paper that is ripped in two. The full paper originally said "I can't", but when split in two, it reads "I can."

There are strategies to minimize the influence of pain over your life, without obsessing over getting rid of it.

Strategies of Acceptance

Try to focus on the things you can change

1)Slowly adjusting how you do things
2)Accepting and adapting to your new normal
3)Thinking of and viewing yourself and life differently (neutrally or positively rather than negatively)
4)Patiently and steadily shifting the focus towards what you really want to do each day
5)Shifting your attention from the pain to your breathing
6)Using some techniques from mindfulness (e.g., mindful stretching, meditation)
7)Finding great support and asking for help

Think about opportunities

Having chronic pain may give you an opportunity to revisit what life means to you

You may shift your focus to finding a new and hopeful purpose. Events that may seem negative can also be seen as opportunities for change, growth, learning, and self-awareness.

As previously suggested, make a list. Brainstorm how a seemingly negative experience can be reframed. What opportunities are hidden behind the negative? How can you regain control over your perception of it?

Use mindfulness to regain control

Mindfulness involves developing an awareness that you bring to a situation

The goal of mindfulness is to be in control of what you pay attention to, and for how long. It can be a helpful way of managing distress.   

You enter into a ‘state of mind’ that is more helpful for managing and living with pain. This soothing and calming state of mind helps the brain to process, rather than fear pain.

When you focus on your pain, it can lead to distress and unhelpful negative thinking about yourself and the future. This increases tension within your body and leads to more worrying or anxious thoughts.

An older couple meditating in their living room.

The process of finding different ways of redirecting your awareness can help manage pain. The goal is to change the way you experience pain. This can be achieved by directing your focus to other practices, such as relaxed breathing, which can reduce distress and induce a calm state. 

Mindfulness aims to balance ‘reasonable’ and ‘emotional’ thinking. It uses thinking approaches to help you focus on being with yourself, in the here and now.

Mindfulness Example:

Negative Thinking: “Ouch, I’m in pain again. This is terrible. I hate that I’m always in pain. Why can’t I get a grip and clean the house like I used to be able to do. This is ruining my life!!”

Mindful Thinking: “Ouch, I’m feeling some pain. It’s okay. I understand that I’m in pain but there are other things to focus on, like my breath. I’m present, here in my kitchen. I can smell coffee and hear the sound of wind outside. What will help me get through this moment?”

Acceptance: key ideas

1)Acceptance is an ongoing journey of change that takes time
2)People who accept their persistent pain find that it has less impact on their day-to-day lives
3)Acceptance is not about giving in, but changing your focus towards what you want to do
4)Many people use mindfulness to manage their pain more successfully

In the next lesson, you will learn about pacing and regulating your activities in-depth.