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How CBT helps me manage pain and low mood

Noor Jawad

How can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) help with pain and depression? Our blogger Noor explains.

The clocks have gone back, the temperature has dropped and our coats have gone on. We are heading towards that end of the year when it may feel a little harder to wake up in the morning and the short hours can leave us feeling a little less energetic than previous seasons.

MS and low mood

It is not unusual to feel more tired and not so chirpy as we draw closer to winter, but SAD (seasonal Affective Disorder) as a form of depression may show its symptoms more so during these coming months.

Depression and low mood more generally are not uncommon in people with MS and pain certainly can play into this, making us feel worse. The low mood itself can cause distress to our bodies and make our pain feel so much worse, feeding into a vicious cycle of pain and low mood.

But there are ways we can manage low mood to minimise the impact it has on pain that are easy to incorporate in our day to day lives.

How emotions can affect pain and behaviour

CBT is something used in particular to tackle low mood, and since I use these techniques in my work daily, I thought I would share how it has helped me.

So, perhaps when I have had a bad day and felt low, I may have noticed thoughts like “I can’t do this today” or “Things feel really bad”. This may have turned up the volume on any physical symptoms I may have been experiencing, such as tingling fingers, achiness, pain and tiredness and therefore impacted how I behave. I may have been more likely to stay in bed for longer, be less motivated at work, stay at home or simply withdraw.

Changing behaviours and challenging our thoughts

We can’t just switch off our feelings and any pain we are experiencing but we can change our behaviours and challenge our thinking.

So, if I just pushed myself a little and called my friend even if I didn’t feel like it, it may stack the evidence against my thought that “I can’t do this today”. Actually, I can. I picked up the phone and I proved it to myself.

This takes some work and effort, but with time with this can boost our mood and actually help us to manage that pain or tiredness we are experiencing, reducing any further stress that may be fuelling it.

A CBT practise you can try

When you are next in a situation that leaves you feeling particularly negative, try identifying your:

  • Thoughts
  • Feelings
  • Physical symptoms
  • Behaviour

Try drawing it in a cycle and see if you can change the behaviour and replace the cycle with more helpful alternatives. You may notice with time that when you’ve changed the behaviour, you have more positive thoughts and your mood starts to lift. From there you may notice some change in the physical symptoms you are experiencing.

That is not to say I am claiming that this will make your pain and symptoms go away, but it may help in terms of keeping them to a minimum as your mood will be at a calmer state.

It isn’t for everyone, but for me understanding CBT and techniques around it has helped me greatly. Stress and low mood is a big factor in exacerbating pain in MS, so if there’s something we can do to try and tackle it, it may be worth giving a go.

Read more about MS and mental health