Footstep 6

Managing moods

It is normal to struggle with moods when you have persistent pain. Emotions or moods linked to pain can take over day-to-day life.

People with pain find that managing their mood changes in positive ways makes a valuable difference to their pain and their lives.

So how do they do it?...

What do we mean by ‘managing moods’?

We all go through periods of 'moodiness' when we feel irritable, sad, frustrated or worried. People with pain often find they feel:

  • Angry and frustrated
  • Fearful and worried
  • Low and unmotivated

If you have these feelings then you probably find that they get in the way of your day-to-day life and feel quite overwhelming at times. It is common to think that there is nothing you can do as they just ‘take over’ and go on for a long time. This is because these mood changes come from the struggle of living with pain.

This is “not your fault”. It is more about how our human mind works when it is stressed with pain, we feel unwell or deal with difficult life events. The mind is trying to make sense of everything that is happening and cope with it all.

The good news is that you can do things to manage your moods better. Discover more in this footstep.

Ways to manage moods better

You may have thoughts like, “I’m useless now”, “I’ll never do that again”, “Things are not going to work out” and “No-one seems to understand me now or want to help”. It is like a tape recording in your head, which no one else hears.

Realistic positive changes can come from learning to deal with these unhelpful thoughts.

Being kind and compassionate to yourself is one of the best things that you can do. It’s very easy to be self-critical and beat yourself up for not being perfect or not getting the job done. But the more you do this, the more likely negative and unkind thoughts emerge. This pushes your pain networks into stress mode, they become more sensitive and so increases pain and distress.

So trying to be ‘100% perfect’ all the time can be unhelpful. Instead, ask yourself, “What is kind and caring for me, my body or mind right now?” Experiment and do things that lessen the stress or pressure. This will help your body’s natural opioids (the pain-reducing chemicals) to work better so they soothe some of the pain and upset in your mind. This in turn can reduce the adrenaline levels that increase stressful pressure and symptoms.

Remember that it is “not your fault” that the pain refuses to go away. So how can you help lessen the stress or pressure?

Below are nine ways to work with moods. The trick is to discover which ones work best for you and then use them often.

There is plenty of evidence showing that relaxation and mindfulness can help people with difficult health problems such as persistent pain. For example, we know it can lessen pain levels, reduce stress and improve concentration.

Find out more about how to unwind your body and your mind in Footstep 9 - Relaxation and mindfulness

Nine ways to help you manage moods

1. Noticing negative thoughts

Negative, unhelpful thoughts often quickly come into your mind and affect your mood without you even noticing them. This is what makes them so powerful and believable. If you can get into the habit of spotting your negative thoughts as you have them, then you can use different techniques to balance or soothe them.

2. Practice ‘balanced thinking’

Write down some of your negative thoughts and then imagine what a best friend would say if they knew you were thinking them. Make a note of what your friend would say and use this when they pop back into your mind. You will start to see that these negative thoughts are not always 100% true or believable.

3. Do things that unwind your mind

Do things that unwind and soothe your mind, like walking the dog, listening to music, doodling, breathing calmly or doing craft activities, knitting… anything that is calming.

4. Build a list of positive things you have done today, or this week

This will show you that you are coping or managing life, despite the pain. Keeping a ‘Positive Facts Diary’ helps deal with “I can’t do this” thinking. You’ll find that you are actually doing positive things. It is just that your mind gets too distracted and focused on the negatives to realise it.

TIP: Using your mobile phone to take photos of your positive moments is a quick and easy way to collect the facts and keep a visible record to remind yourself!

5. Practice being kind to yourself

For instance, check you are balancing activities and effort (ie. pacing); work towards fun goals in paced steps; do something enjoyable, like a meal out with a friend.

6. Learn from others with similar pain issues

Find out what other people do to deal with negative thinking and moods through local support groups or useful websites (see resources, below).

7. Get into helpful habits

Find what made a really useful change for you last week and then use it again this week.

8. Discover other ways to tackle negative thinking

You can find self-help resources to manage moods in most local libraries or explore the websites below.

9. Share your plans with people you trust and get their support

Remember that you are not alone. We all need support and encouragement from other people, so try not to feel bad about asking friends and family to help you.

Resources for you to use

Five Steps to Mental Wellbeing

Evidence suggests there are five steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing. Trying these things could help you feel more positive and able to get the most out of life. Find out more on the NHS website.

A wide range of self help resources in all formats

Free leaflets, audio recordings and videos from the NHS, about all aspects of managing moods and emotions, including depression, anxiety, anger and many other areas

Mindfulness on Soundcloud

Listen to free mindfulness audio meditations on the Breathworks Soundcloud page.

Mindfulness self-compassion

For a mindfulness self-compassion approach to pain and life struggles try these two trusted and useful sources:

Managing moods: key ideas

  • It is normal to struggle with moods when you have persistent pain
  • People who have learnt to manage their moods find it makes a big difference to their pain – and their lives
  • Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Remember – it is “not your fault” that the pain refuses to go away
  • There are many way to lessen the stress or pressure you're under. Discover which ones work best for you and then use them often
  • Remember, you are not alone. Don't be afraid to ask friends or family for help