Yoga To Treat Chronic Pain Daily Gratitude Helps Keep the Doctor Away

Catastrophic thinking, fear, anger, learned helplessness, and loss of resiliency all inflame the pain equation and make it nearly impossible to find the way back to health and happiness. That’s why it’s so important to replace these negative thought patterns with positive ones.

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The idea that positive thoughts influence both mind and body for the better is not new, although it was only in the latter part of the 20th century that we began studying the link between positive thoughts and health. Although we still have a lot to learn, it seems clear that positive thoughts can add years to your life, reduce depression, strengthen the immune system, improve your ability to cope with stress, and even lower your risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.

One of the more powerful positive thoughts is gratitude; that is, being thankful and realizing that you have been blessed in many ways and continue to receive blessings. Making a habit of being grateful has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep, and increase overall satisfaction with life. It also reduces the tendency to respond with anger when provoked, and increases the likelihood of treating others more kindly.

Some people seem to be naturally grateful, easily finding reasons to count their blessings and share their gratitude with others. But even if you’re not one of those folks, you can easily learn to become more grateful. You can start by actually thinking about why you’re saying “thank you.” We often say these words without thinking, just to be polite. But try taking a minute every time you say “thank you” to remind yourself of why you are thankful.

If, for example, you have just said thank you to a waiter, remind yourself that you have had the pleasure of being served in a restaurant. You were able to select food that you enjoy, and perhaps share a meal with family or friends. If you have just said thank you to a friend who delivered the hammer you asked to borrow, take a moment to think about how great it is to have kind, generous people in your life. If you have just said thank you to the mechanic who fixed your car, think for a moment about the miracle of science that has converted metal, plastic, tires, and oil into a vehicle that allows you to visit more places, spend time with more wonderful people, and see more things than your grandparents (and certainly great-grandparents) ever dreamed possible.

Now take it further and start a daily gratitude journal. Each day, jot down a few things you are grateful for. Things that frequently pop up in my gratitude journal include my wife, my kids, close friends, great coworkers, and the privilege of being able to help others. And these, of course, are just the beginning of my list.

Every so often a patient will let me know how grateful she is for the treatment she is receiving and the kindness of my staff. This is one of the best thank-yous I can receive. I’ve noticed that patients who verbalize their gratitude often enjoy great success in managing their pain. And they often seek out others who are in need of help, naturally taking on the role of mentor to those fighting similar battles. And, I’m happy to say, positive change is often infectious. Robert Emmons, PhD, of the University of California at Davis, who has conducted a great deal of research on the benefits of gratitude and other positive thoughts, sums it up this way: “Gratitude heals, energizes, and transforms lives.”4 That’s why I urge all of my patients to develop an “attitude of gratitude.”

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