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How thoughts can change your pain

How does thinking affect our bodies? Can thinking strengthen pain? Is pain 'between the ears'? 

In recent years, there has been increasing evidence that our thoughts affect our bodies. In the field of pain, important discoveries have also been made. 

In order to understand the influence that thoughts can have, it is important that we know a little more about how our nervous system deals with pain. Throughout the day, signals from the brain travel downwards. These signals could be seen as a kind of 'antidote' to signals that can cause pain. There are activities, such as sports, that cause more of these 'counter-signals' to travel down. As a result, you feel less pain while exercising. 

One of the most important discoveries is that negative thoughts about the future cause our nervous system to behave differently. Especially thoughts about everything that can go wrong cause the nervous system to change. These thoughts are often called 'catastrophes'. A catastrophe is a disaster, so you could also call it disaster-thinking, or doom-thinking. If you have many of these thoughts, it will reduce the number of 'counter-signals' that travel from your brain to the nervous system. This can cause more pain. Positive thoughts and activities cause more 'counter-signals' to travel through the nervous system! 

Thoughts can therefore have a major impact on pain and the body. And thoughts can make sure that the pain is strengthened! Is pain 'between the ears'? Yes and No! Usually 'between the ears' means that someone is acting. This is certainly not the case with chronic pain! The pain is real and is really felt. Literally' you could say that pain is between the ears. The brain causes pain, and the brain is between your ears... 

The first step: getting to know your thoughts

What can you do about this yourself? Well, although a lot of our thinking goes 'by itself', you can adjust your thinking. The most important step is to get a better understanding of what your thoughts are about pain. 


1. Choose an empty notebook or booklet that you will use for this exercise.

2. Write down your thoughts about pain as often as possible. You can choose a fixed time in the day, or just write something down when it occurs to you. Some examples of thoughts:

  • My pain will never get better.
  • I don't believe I will ever work again.
  • I can't do without my medicines.
  • Nobody understands me.
  • There must be something wrong with my body.

3. Write down, next to a thought, how you feel about this thought. For example, does the thought makes you angry, afraid, or sad? 

Later on, in this blog, there will be a continuation of the exercise, in which I will reflect on how to 'bend' negative thoughts. To be able to do this it is important to know your own thoughts first!

How thoughts can change your pain

More guidance on how to decrease your pain