What would you think if I would tell you that, just by being an optimist, you would experience less pain? You could either think that this is absolutely amazing. But you might also question that and say that it simply cannot be that easy. Maybe, optimism and pain experience are not a one-way street. Could it not be that less pain just supports optimists in being more optimistic?
Recently, researchers have found a causal link between having an optimistic mindset and one’s pain threshold. Participants who were primed with a “best-possible-self” task to induce optimism were compared to a control group. After having gone through the optimism or control manipulation, they participated in a cold pressor test, which brought about an unpleasant pain experience.
Interestingly, the optimistic group reported a lower pain intensity during the cold pressor test when compared to the control group. So here it is: Optimism can have direct effects on pain!
But okay, it may not be that easy after all. Situational pain catastrophizing, meaning how anxious one feels about the upcoming unpleasant stimulation, did influence the pain intensity, too. Individuals who were part of the optimistic group and showed high situational pain catastrophizing did experience a higher pain intensity than their other optimistic group members who catastrophized less.
In conclusion: after all, being optimistic is healthy. It is not only beneficial when it comes to pain but also in regard to psychological well-being and stress management. Optimists are believed to have better adjustment to physical and psychological stress.
What if you do not consider yourself an optimist? No worries! Through simple exercises like the one used in the presented study, you can induce even lasting states of optimism. In the end, you are able to control your pain instead of the pain controlling you.
Reference: Hanssen, M. M., Peters, M. L., Vlaeyen, J. W., Meevissen, Y. M., & Vancleef, L. M. (2013). Optimism lowers pain: Evidence of the causal status and underlying mechanisms. Pain, 154(1), 53-58. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2012.08.006
Friederike Derichsweiler (i6185159)