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How pursuing goals can help people living with chronic pain

Thursday, 21 February 2019

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Positive goal engagement can play an important role in helping people to maintain a sense of well-being when living with chronic pain, according to new ECU research.

Chronic pain is typically described as pain which lasts for three months or longer, and it is estimated to affect up to 20 per cent of the Australian population. It can contribute to increased psychological distress, as people living with long-term pain are often unable to continue doing day-to-day tasks and activities they would have done previously without difficulty. As such, individuals living in pain are more likely to experience conditions such as depression and anxiety.

This study, led by Dr Joanne Iddon from the Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool together with ECU Associate Professor Joanne Dickson from the School of Arts and Humanities, investigated the role of positive goal engagement in increased mental well-being among individuals with chronic non-cancer pain.

“The research showed that being able to identify and effectively pursue meaningful life goals can act as a protective ‘buffer’ that helps individuals to maintain their sense of well-being, despite the ongoing presence of the pain,” Professor Dickson said.

Professor Dickson said personal goals represent future-oriented desired outcomes or experiences that we strive for.

“Personal goals naturally vary between individuals but they are typically motivated by what a person identifies as personally meaningful and important,” she said.

“They can relate to any aspect of a person’s life. For instance, they may encapsulate the idea of working towards and taking part in activities or aspiring to develop particular personal qualities that provide a sense of pleasure, purpose and achievement.

“For example, for some individuals this may relate to them increasing their independence in a specific way, starting a new hobby, pursuing work/volunteering opportunities or adjusting goals so they become more manageable and achievable,” Professor Dickson said.

Studies in this field have traditionally explored unhelpful or maladaptive processes that perpetuate psychological distress and associated disability. In contrast, this study identified goal processes that were adaptive and involved in maintaining well-being, even in the face of chronic pain. It is published in the British Journal of Pain.

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