To print: Use your web browser's print feature. Close this window after printing.

Chronic Pain: Using Healthy Thinking

Table of Contents


Living with pain can be hard, especially if it's long-term—or chronic—pain. Chronic pain is pain that lasts for 3 months or longer. It can make you sleep poorly, feel tired and irritable, and have a hard time being active or working. It may strain your relationships with loved ones too, making it hard to be the kind of friend, parent, or partner you want to be. You may feel stressed or get depressed or anxious. And these feelings may make your pain worse, because they can make it harder to manage your pain.

Learning how to control your pain can help with all of these things. In most cases, chronic pain can be managed so that you can get on with your life and do your daily activities. One way you can help manage and cope with your pain is through healthy thinking. Your thoughts are something you can control. You can learn techniques to make your thoughts more helpful and encouraging.

How can you use healthy thinking to cope with pain?

Many people work with a therapist or a counselor to learn CBT techniques. But you also can practice some of them on your own.

Working on your own or with a counselor, you can practice these three steps:

The goal is to have encouraging thoughts come naturally. It may take some time to change the way you think. You will need to practice healthy thinking every day.

Notice and stop your thoughts

The first step is to notice and stop your negative thoughts or "self-talk." Self-talk is what you think and believe about yourself and your experiences. It's like a running commentary in your head. Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not helpful.

Ask about your thoughts

The next step is to ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful or unhelpful. Does the evidence support your negative thought? Some of your self-talk may be true. Or it may be partly true but exaggerated. Here are a few types of unhelpful thoughts to look for:

Choose your thoughts

The next step is to choose a more helpful thought to replace the unhelpful one.

Keeping a journal of your thoughts is one of the best ways to practice stopping, asking, and choosing your thoughts. It makes you aware of your self-talk. Write down any negative or unhelpful thoughts you had during the day. If you think you might not remember at the end of your day, keep a notepad with you so you can write down any unhelpful thoughts as they happen. Then write down a helpful message to correct the unhelpful thought.

With daily practice, more accurate and helpful thoughts will soon come naturally to you.

But there may be some truth in some of your negative thoughts. You may have some things you want to work on. If you didn't perform as well as you would like on something, write that down. You can work on a plan to correct or improve that area.

If you want, you also could write down what kind of unhelpful thought you had. Journal entries might look something like this:

Thought diary

Stop your negative thought

Ask what type of negative thought you had

Choose an accurate, helpful thought

"I haven't had too much pain today, but I know that won't last for long."

Focusing on negative

"Sure, not all days will be pain-free. But I've had some days without pain lately, so I know that not every day will be painful."

"I've taken all my medicines like I'm supposed to, so I should have no pain at all."


"Medicines help a lot, but they may not solve the problem alone. Using them along with healthy thinking gives me the best chance of coping with my pain."

"There's really nothing I can do to help my pain."


"Some days my pain may feel tough to manage, but there have been days when it has been better. And there are things that I can do to help my pain."

"Sitting for more than 2 hours is very hard, so there's no way I can ever go back to my job."

All or nothing

"I may not be able to return to my exact job, but I can be open to other arrangements that will allow me to continue to work in a similar way."

Credits for Chronic Pain: Using Healthy Thinking

Current as of: October 20, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Catherine D. Serio PhD - Behavioral Health
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Steven Locke MD - Psychiatry

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document. Some information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

© 1995-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.