Chronic physical pain can make life pretty tough. It wears us down, makes us irritable and short tempered, and can leave us feeling quite depressed. Pain, physical health and emotional wellbeing are all closely related with each affecting the other. The good news is that there are some things you can do to improve the way you cope with pain.

If your pain is a problem

There are all sorts of reasons why people experience chronic pain or more general ill health. You may have suffered an injury, or developed a disease or infection. Whatever the cause, pain can affect your quality of life. Does pain interfere with your relationships, making it harder to feel close to your kids, partner or friends? Does it interfere with your ability to carry out your normal "role" – as a worker, a student, or a parent? Does it interfere with your ability to participate in activities and hobbies, things you used to enjoy? If the answer to any of these is yes, it is worth seeing if there is anything that can be done to ease your pain.

Sorts of pain

We could be talking about any sort of pain that interferes with your quality of life. By definition, chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than six months and affects how a person lives their daily life. Examples include back pain, severe headaches, joint pain, and so on. Sometimes people’s general physical health isn’t great, and interferes with their quality of life. Common examples include nausea, stomach aches, constipation, or regular diarrhoea (which might be "irritable bowel syndrome").

What you can do about it


Several medical treatments can help with chronic pain, including over-the-counter or prescription medications, physiotherapy, and even surgery. But these are only a few of the options available to help with chronic pain. Emotional problems and physical pain feed into each other – the more unhappy we are, the worse the pain and the harder it is to cope with. The worse the pain, the more unhappy, angry, and frustrated we become. It can quickly become a vicious downward spiral. So looking after your mental health and wellbeing is crucial to dealing with pain effectively. But first, you need to do all you can to address the physical causes.

Find a good GP

The first, and most important thing, is to make sure that you’ve been thoroughly checked out by a doctor. The best place to start is a good GP or family doctor. If you don’t have one, ask friends or neighbours for a recommendation. Do you have preferences, such as young or old, male or female? Then make an appointment and go in for a chat. Ask for a longer appointment the first time you go. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to this doctor, then consider looking for another one – it’s your right to choose a health practitioner who meets your needs. It’s a good idea to tell your doctor about your military history – that will help them to understand you a bit better and to make sure you get access to the best possible services. And once you’ve found the right doctor, try to stick with them!

Manage your mental health

Your mental and emotional health is a vital part of how you cope with pain and physical problems. There’s lots of information on how to cope with depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress on other parts of this site. Even though turning to alcohol or other drugs might make you feel better in the short term, it does nothing to fix the underlying problems and causes all sorts of problems in the long run. And generally looking after yourself – eating well, getting plenty of rest, regular exercise (within the limits of your pain) - will all help you to deal with stress and cope more effectively with chronic pain.

Watch your self-talk

Remind yourself that you are not a powerless victim of your pain; yes, it is uncomfortable but you are working on better ways to deal with it; you are going to live a productive and fulfilling life despite the pain.

Take action: Learn to think about your pain differently

The way that you think about your pain can change the way you feel and act. Thinking in an unhelpful way can make your mood worse and make it more difficult to deal with stressful situations.

Use the Reassess Your Thoughts tool to help you to identify the thoughts that are causing you distress, then start to reassess these unhelpful thoughts and come up with more helpful ways of thinking.

When you’re starting out it’s a good idea to learn the helpful thinking tools when your pain is bothering you, but isn’t too overwhelming. Once you’ve learned the skills to reassess your thinking you can apply them when your pain is worse. With practice, you’ll be able to use these skills day-to-day as the need arises.

This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go. Look for quick ways to re-assess your thoughts.

Stay active

When you are in pain, it is often tempting to reduce or stop activities and to shut yourself away – this is just about the worst thing you can do. Cutting yourself off from everyone and everything makes it much more likely that you’ll think negatively, focus on your pain, and feel worse. Try to become active and engaged. Distracting yourself from the pain by engaging in enjoyable and productive activities – even though it’s hard – will help you increase the positive aspects of your life. Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t, and work out a plan. Try and find a hobby or a pastime that you enjoy and that helps you connect with family, friends, or other people in your community.

Take action: Find enjoyable or distracting activities to manage pain

Withdrawing from activities is common in people who are experiencing pain. Engaging in enjoyable or distracting activities is an important part of managing your pain and your mood.

Use the Distraction tool for ideas on activities that can distract you from your pain. Use the Enjoyable and Rewarding Activities tool to help you to identify activities that you find engaging and enjoyable. This tool can also help you to identify and work through anything that might get in the way of doing these activities.

When you are having a good day use the tools to make a plan, and choose some activities that you find engaging. Once you’ve made a plan you can use the activities you selected to manage your pain.

These tools are also available on the High Res app to use on the go.

Get support from other people

Coping with chronic pain is much harder if you’re doing it alone. Try to spend time with friends and family – people you care about. You don’t have to talk about your pain, just be with other people. (It’s OK to talk about the pain sometimes, but not all the time). Work out a plan to do this, maybe contact an old friend, organise to see a movie, have a coffee, or go to a sports game. You might want to join a club or a church, or perhaps a support group with others who are also experiencing chronic pain. Try to make sure you have some social contact every day.

Take action: Build social connections to help you cope with pain

Having good social support helps you to feel better and cope with pain.

Use the Social Connections tool to identify the people in your life who can offer you support and the different kinds of support they can offer.

When you’re starting out you can focus on strengthening relationships with those closest to you. Over time, you can work on building a wider support network by reaching out to people that you do not see as often or have lost contact with.

This tool is also available on the High Res app to use on the go. 

Getting help

There’s a lot you can do for yourself to manage your chronic pain or ill health, but it’s always a good idea to get the best possible help.

  • Your GP can refer you to the most appropriate specialists, depending on what the issue is, and this includes psychologists or other mental health professionals who specialise in chronic pain.
  • There are plenty of specialised pain management clinics around the country, with multidisciplinary teams to help you (psychologists and psychiatrist, physiotherapists, anaesthetists, occupational therapists, nurses, and so on). You can find them on the internet and a list is available at Pain Australia.

Online resources

More information on strategies to manage chronic pain is available from: