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Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Attitudes and Arthritis: Your Attitudes Can Impact How You Cope with Arthritis Pain Print E-mail

Half Empty vs. Half Full

When it comes to arthritis pain, your attitude can have a big impact on how miserable or tolerable the experience is. Some coping styles just make a difficult situation that much harder to handle. One particularly toxic attitude is pessimism. Psychologists have found that pessimists generally share three qualities: They believe bad events will last a long time ("The arthritis pain will never get better"). They think these events will undermine everything they do ("Arthritis has ruined everything"). They blame themselves for any negative experiences ("It's all my fault").

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the optimists. When faced by the same challenges in life, they believe the bad events are just temporary ("The arthritis pain won't last forever"). They see their problems as specific rather than global ("I just have trouble doing things that put stress on my knees"). They don't blame themselves for their situation ("It's not my fault I have a disease").

Optimists are not only happier than pessimists. They may be healthier, too. In one classic study (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1988), 99 Harvard graduates filled out a questionnaire that asked about their coping style at age 25. Researchers then followed their health over the next 35 years. Those with a pessimistic style as young adults were more likely to be in poor health at ages 45 and 60, even when their physical and mental condition at the start of the study was taken into account. This does not mean that a pessimistic outlook causes a disease such as arthritis. However, it may mean that being pessimistic only makes it harder to cope with a disease and stay in the best possible health.

Keeping Arthritis Pain in Perspective

Optimism and pessimism are general attitudes that can color your whole view of life. Your specific attitudes toward illness and pain are important, too. Some people start to see arthritis pain as a tool they can use to get what they want. It's easier to fall into this trap than you might think.

"Many people get a lot of special help or attention from well-meaning family and friends when they're ill," says Robert Jamison, Ph.D., director of the pain management program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Ask yourself if you have ever used arthritis pain for one of these purposes:

  • To have an excuse for failing to meet a goal?
  • To monopolize someone's time and attention?
  • To avoid a job you're really capable of doing?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your attitude toward arthritis may be holding you back from feeling your best. Fortunately, you can learn good habits as well as bad ones. Now may be the time to start cultivating a habit of realistic optimism, in which you accept the problems caused by arthritis pain without making them seem worse or more far-reaching than they actually are.


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