Cognitive behavioral therapy is technically a psychological treatment, but can also be very effective in managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Undergoing CBT for fibromyalgia is all about validating your experience, strengthening your mental health, and equipping you with tools to take on your everyday symptoms.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
- 1 What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
- 2 What Are the Benefits of CBT for Fibromyalgia?
- 3 Is CBT for Fibromyalgia Right for You?
Cognitive behavioral therapy, otherwise known as CBT, is a short-term psychological treatment that empowers your mind. This therapy recognizes how our thoughts impact the way we feel and behave and teaches us how to change negative thought patterns to improve mental health and implement healthier behaviors. Many therapy techniques are included in CBT sessions, including journaling, relaxation training, mindfulness, and acceptance and commitment therapy.
With CBT for fibromyalgia, you can shift the way you approach life and react to pain, stiffness, and fatigue, among other symptoms. Each session will help you break harmful thought cycles (like catastrophizing or self-deprecating) and transform them into positive, beneficial beliefs.
CBT won’t cure your fibromyalgia. But as these skills become habits, you can build healthier coping strategies that may make your other treatments more effective.
What Are the Benefits of CBT for Fibromyalgia?
Cognitive behavioral therapy can benefit everyone, no matter what they’re struggling with. CBT for fibromyalgia is especially powerful in improving your quality of life. There are five major reasons why CBT is such an effective treatment for fibromyalgia.
It Reframes How You Think About and Approach Pain
Since CBT for fibromyalgia works in your mind, it’s incredibly powerful in transforming the way you think about your daily pain. It’s so easy to fall into catastrophizing thought cycles that make it feel like your fibromyalgia pain will be unbearable forever, whether that’s from stiff joints, migraines, or nerve pain. But CBT can help you break out of those habits and establish better, healthier ones!
As you talk with your therapist, they can identify harmful thoughts surrounding pain and help you reframe your mindset. For example, instead of constantly telling yourself that fibromyalgia is stopping you from living your life, they’ll help you recognize how many things you can do regardless of your pain. Or, together, you’ll come up with a list of activities you can modify to fit your lifestyle.
You’ll learn how to accept your pain in the moment and experience it as it is, all while reminding yourself that every day is not a bad day and you can get through it. While you’re undergoing CBT for fibromyalgia, your focus shifts away from pain, which can actually reduce your symptoms!
You Can Spot Patterns In Your Symptoms and Behaviors
Journaling is a very powerful tool in cognitive behavioral therapy, and you can use it to track your daily symptoms, behaviors, and coping mechanisms. Then, you and your therapist can discuss any unhealthy patterns you spot and work together to overcome them.
This Chronic Pain Daily Symptom Tracker helps you monitor your symptoms throughout the day and identify any clear triggers. Since you can track your pain by the hour, you can discover (or confirm your suspicions about) when you feel your best and worst, which activities cause a spike in symptoms, and where your most common pain areas are located.
The more you understand how fibromyalgia affects your daily life, the better you’ll be able to deal with symptoms and get the most out of CBT for fibromyalgia. An added bonus: your doctors will be able to improve your treatment plan with such clear and precise pain tracking!
CBT For Fibromyalgia Can Help You Manage Brain Fog and Fatigue
Brain fog and fatigue are two common symptoms of fibromyalgia, but are also two of the toughest to deal with. Similar to how it treats pain, CBT for fibromyalgia can improve brain function and fatigue through mindfulness techniques.
You’ll focus on bringing yourself back to the present moment to mitigate the effects of brain fog and clear your mind. Concentrating on what’s happening now helps you tackle the task at hand and power through.
Mindfulness techniques also help you (and your brain) relax, making it easier to fall asleep at night. When used in tandem with pain trackers, you can plan out your days to schedule some rest after your high-energy tasks or activities.
You’ll Feel More Confident and Empowered
Fibromyalgia, like many other chronic illnesses, can make you feel powerless to your condition. But cognitive behavioral therapy helps you feel in control of your body and mind, confident in your capabilities, and more empowered than ever.
Many people with fibromyalgia are constantly anticipating the next round of symptoms, but CBT for fibromyalgia turns your thinking away from that and breaks the harmful thought cycle. You’ll retrain your brain to approach your symptoms from a place of understanding and acceptance, letting go of negativity surrounding your condition. Remember, your thoughts impact how you feel — using the tools you learn in CBT sessions helps you take control of your thoughts and feel in control of your body.
As you work with your therapist to restructure your days in a way that works best for you, you can set achievable (but still challenging!) goals that remind you how capable you truly are. This will build your confidence and self-esteem as you work with fibromyalgia, not around it, and break down the seemingly impossible into easily-manageable tasks.
It Gives You Tools to Reduce Stress and Improve Mental Health
At its core, CBT for fibromyalgia is a psychological treatment for a physical illness. But depression, stress, and anxiety can develop alongside fibromyalgia—all of which can be managed through cognitive behavioral therapy.
Diving into the behavioral aspect of CBT will help you recognize your gut-instinct responses to each of your symptoms and spot patterns of stress, anxiety, and depression. Maybe a bad migraine causes anxiety about getting another one in the following days. Or a few nights of poor sleep leave you feeling sad, irritable, and stressed.
CBT for fibromyalgia will help you develop calmer responses to your symptoms that lower your stress and anxiety levels and improve depression. The healthy coping mechanisms that you’ll learn from your therapist can also be used beyond your fibromyalgia treatment to strengthen your overall mental health now and in the future.
Is CBT for Fibromyalgia Right for You?
Just like other treatments, whether or not CBT for fibromyalgia is right for you will depend on your unique experience. Though all people with fibromyalgia experience pain, some may experience more intense mental health symptoms and could get additional benefits from starting cognitive behavioral therapy.
If and when you begin attending CBT sessions, you, your therapist, and your doctor should work together to tailor the specific techniques used and tools taught to your symptoms. It might be a good idea to chat with your doctor about any worries you have about trying CBT (therapy is a very emotional and at times difficult process, after all) before starting sessions.
Know that CBT doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s okay! If a few months pass and you don’t feel any of the intended effects, check in with your doctor on finding a new path forward.
CBT for fibromyalgia is one of the most transformative treatments for fibromyalgia, though many don’t think to pursue psychological therapy. But CBT can help you reframe your thoughts on your symptoms, strengthen your mental health, and improve your self-confidence. Be sure to talk with your doctor about trying it if you think it may be right for you.