How we can relate more effectively to our pain
If you live with any form of pain, I’m hoping the following information will be of help. Many of us look at pain the wrong way that exacerbates our problem, so I want to share some different thoughts about pain, how we relate to it, and how we can possibly change that relationship to find a little more joy in our lives. I speak from experience having lived with pain for close to 25 years due to a neurological movement disorder called dystonia, and prior to that, numerous repetitive sports injuries.
It is hypothesized by many pain experts that a lot of pain issues are generated or worsened by us bracing against certain sensations. Bracing is actually a normal, innate protective response because whenever pain or danger is made aware to the brain, it automatically goes into fight/flight/freeze mode. The problem many of us run into is initiating this response when no danger is present. For much more details about this topic, please see my 2 books, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges.
Pain, especially if it is persistent/chronic, need not be a reason for us to go into the “danger is present” response mode. This is because we are already aware that pain exists. It is not something that hits us unexpectedly. However, many people with chronic and persistent pain live in this state of mind which keeps their pain more alive than it needs to be.
A big reason for this is that human beings resist what we don’t like and we try to fight against it. When we do this (i.e. resist/fight against our pain), we turn on inflammatory pain chemistry in the brain which makes pain worse. We must learn to be okay with what we view as not okay (click here to read my article about this). When we do this, pain is no longer the dominant force in our lives, our overly anxious nervous system slows down, we think more clearly, and make better decisions for ourselves rather than act impulsively.
The key to resolving persistent pain is being connected to our body and thoughts. In other words, how we characterize it. Many of us will say how much we hate our pain, which I totally understand because I don’t like pain either, but when we do this, we create inflammatory “thinking” chemistry in the body that creates more pain. If we can speak to our pain as if it were our friend (e.g., how can we work through this together), as crazy as that may sound, it can actually reduce the chemistry that promotes more pain.
We must remember that pain is an experience no different from any other experience in life. As with every other experience in life, we judge it as being good, bad, boring, tiring, fun, exciting, painful, etc. How we label the experience of pain can have a very direct impact on how much pain we live with and are able to tolerate. Please also consider the fact that people who are anxious have a lower pain tolerance level. If this describes you, I would work on your anxiety and overall state of mind in addition to treating the pain. It will give you a much better chance at reducing the sensation of pain.
The benefit of focusing on our sensation of pain without emotion allows the brain to have the information needed to turn on its natural regulation system more effectively. If we do the opposite, we turn on the flight/flight response which further constricts muscles, impacts respiration rates, and changes circulation. The mind needs to learn that pain does not always mean danger.
Welcome your pain the best you can to give your brain the best chance to regulate it, just like any other experience. I know this might be hard to conceptualize, but I promise that if you change your relationship to your pain, you have a better chance to change the level of the perception of pain that you experience.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and volunteer writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Brain & Life Magazine, and Patient Worthy. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.