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Is it possible to live a happy life with chronic pain?

his is a question which clients who come to my chronic pain management clinic in Milton Keynes and Bedford, or even via video call often ask me.  It usually springs from desperation, from a wish to get back to a previous life, or from a feeling that life has changed irrevocably for the worse.

I think it might be helpful to run through with you what I say to my clients who raise this. I believe that you can change the way you look at things and find control and happiness even if you have chronic pain. And by doing so, you will often find that the pain lessens. It is all about using your powerful mind.


I try to start by steering my client to an awareness that they have power over their feelings. We are not often in control of the things which happen to us but we can get in control of the feelings which those events generate. Coming to a realization that you can control feelings, strengthening the positive and fading out or turning down the negative, is a tremendously powerful thing. A lot of this is about habits, getting good habits can be done but it needs practice. One simple thing you can do is the ‘three blessings’ exercise. Every day at the end of the day write down three good things which have happened, even if they are small. This has been clinically proven to improve mood.


I then often move on to have a chat about time, especially about our feelings and time. The thing about any feeling, whether positive or negative, is that it is temporary.

If you are having a down day, accept it, tomorrow may be different. If you are having a good day enjoy the moment. The memories can keep you going.


It’s a funny thing but we are often at our happiest when we do not think about happiness but are thinking about something else. Psychologists have a word for this, they call it ‘flow’. It is that time when you are absorbed in whatever you are doing and you just do it. It can be likened to being swept along by a river. When you are in this state you do not think about happiness, you just are . . .happy. Seems a paradox but it is true. 

Often if you have chronic pain you can get stuck, concentrating on the pain rather than going into that flow. I often ask clients: ‘what do you like?’ then we talk about how it is possible to do more of what we like and how beneficial that can be. 


As we talk about these likeable things, I can see my client’s imagination beginning to work. That takes us on to another powerful weapon, using your imagination to create positive emotions. It’s easy when you think about it. Remember a time when you were really happy, or create a beautiful relaxing scene and spend some time there, in your own mind. It feels good doesn’t it? You have that power and it is a strong weapon.


Don’t centre on yourself. If you are in pain it is easy to become obsessed with yourself and every feeling you have. I have a bit of advice for my clients, be happy and then give that happiness away. Do something for someone you love or like. It will make you feel better.

Get professional advice

I hope you find these little tips useful. If you have chronic pain I world encourage you to visit a consultant such as myself. I can help you build up a mental strength which, although it will not always get rid of your pain, can make living with is possible. It all starts with you, your attitude, your power and your ability to control your feelings. 

My three top tips:

Once we have got this attitude going, I often make some practical lifestyle tips.

Here are my top three things to get right. 


First up is sleep, there is proven evidence that poor sleep makes us more sensitive to pain. It can take time to build a good sleep routine and I recommend my book Sleeping with Pain. 



Next is exercise. If you move your muscles will be stronger and your body will be more flexible. This will lessen your pain and make it easier to control. Take it gently and do something you enjoy, favourites are swimming, yoga or walking. Or all three! 

Meet friends

Socialising comes next. Even if it is for short periods try to meet up with friends, and have a good laugh while you are doing it. 

News round up:

There have been some important developments in the world of pain research recently, so I thought I would highlight a couple of them.

Possibility of a blood test to diagnose fibromyalgia in the next five years;


Ohio State University researchers believe they have developed a blood test which can reliably detect fibromyalgia. This is often misdiagnosed as its symptoms can be very similar to a whole range of other conditions.

Lead researcher Professor Kevin Hackshaw, said:

“We found clear, reproducible metabolic patterns in the blood of dozens of patients with fibromyalgia. This brings us much closer to a blood test than we have ever been.”

Mindfulness is effective in chronic pain management


Group work in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), is proving effective in the treatment of chronic pain a meta-analysis published in Evidence-Based Mental Health has found. The research shows this targeted form of mindfulness is proving effective is reducing pain severity, reducing the interference which pain can cause to everyday life and controlling feelings of distress. 

Goodbye for now and see you soon.

Wishing you a less pain day

Dr Sue

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