The power of sitting with pain to help overcome pain

July 14, 2019

It is coming close to the 20-year anniversary when my life completely changed. This is when chronic pain from dystonia took over. It was devastating to say the least. Within months after my first symptoms, I went from a very active, social, athletic person to a pile of mush on the floor rolling around in pain all day. Dystonia blindsided me, turning my world completely around.

I didn’t have good days or bad days back then, or even parts of days that were okay enough where I could do things around the house or outside the house to run an errand, enjoy a meal with friends, or just see a movie. I was literally floor ridden and only got up to go to the bathroom or get something to eat, which I often brought back to the floor to eat lying down because being upright for any length of time was excruciating. The pain from the involuntary muscle spasms and contractions, and my head being locked in a turned position, forced me to give up almost everything from the life I was living. I could barely do the most basic of daily tasks. It was heartbreaking.

After years of working through the physical and emotional pain and finding numerous things to help me better manage my symptoms, which is still a daily requirement for me to be as functional as possible, it is a far cry from the person I was before dystonia, but a far cry from me at my worst, which is how I measure my progress. I don’t compare myself today to the person I was before dystonia. To me this is unrealistic. I measure my life now to my toughest times to see how far I have come.

I encourage you to do the same because when we look in the past and grieve the old us, it only brings sorrow. I can easily compare the person I was before dystonia to the person I am now and see how different life is, and easily become depressed. There is no point to this because I was crushed with a brutal, life altering health condition, so the only fair measurement, from my perspective, is how far I have come from the devastation of that life change. You can read more about this in my other article called, How adversity and obstacles change our lives.

The biggest challenge for most of us is learning to deal with it emotionally. The pain is horrible for sure, but the anxiety, depression, fear, and isolation are in the front seat along for the ride. There is not remotely enough room in this article to go over the many strategies for how to be as healthy as possible and live effectively with all of this physical and emotional pain. For all the numerous options available, I encourage you to get my book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey and specifically check out Chapters 9-15, which are devoted to coping with and managing all sorts of pain in our lives. Even if you don’t have dystonia, this book is applicable to any physical or mental health condition.

The first thing I had to do was learn to accept that life was different. Not that it would always be different, but to be present in the moment and accept that it was different from before. I then had to learn to sit with my pain. This was such a huge step in my ability to cope, because running from pain, emotional or physical, does not make it go away. It can sometimes make it worse.

Many people I know remain as active as possible because when they stop moving, the pain is at its worst. My contention is that the movement helps because it distracts the mind and because movement is good for movement disorders and pain. This is all well and good, but this can cause the pain to become worse at rest because the body is being overly stressed from overactivity and/or the wrong activities. We need better balance with activity and rest because I would guess that most of us probably too often neglect resting, breathing, relaxing, and practicing  how to let go.

When feeling stressed or in pain, try to sit with it. If you run, you stay in fight or flight mode which increases adrenaline and stress and worsens our health. Allow yourself to acclimate to your situation without resistance. Resistance to anything in life increases its power over us. If we can learn to stop resisting what is, it leads to comfort in uncomfortable situations. We learn to accept what is happening in the moment, without panic, worry, fear, or anger. This then leads to easier acceptance of other life changes and challenges.

If we can learn to sit with our pain and become as stoic as possible, our emotions will not feed the physical symptoms, and vice versa. Please understand that this is a daily practice and if you are dedicated, you will see results. For more on this, please see my article called, The impact stress and emotions have on our health.

Regarding emotions, we must be so careful because when we are filled with anger, fear, hatred, jealousy, bitterness, resentment, and other similar emotions, we activate stress hormones that prevent us from healing. This is why learning to sit with all of life’s ups and downs, rather than run from or resist them, is so important.

I would like to end this with one of my favorite affirmations that helps me with pain and unwanted emotions, or simply when life is not going as I want or planned. It comes from Louise Hay – “I relax into the flow of life and life flows through me with ease.”

Without having experienced pain and sorrow, we would never
know how to truly experience the joys and pleasures in life.


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 (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021. 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 writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers NetworkThe MightyPatient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.


9 responses to “The power of sitting with pain to help overcome pain”

  1. Bren Murphy says:

    Hi Tom, thank you for sharing your journey, it is very heartening to see how you have persevered and overcome your challenges. I face my own challenges on an addiction level and your insights are certainly applicable across domains. Thank you.

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Thank you, Bren. I appreciate you saying that. I think many challenges we face in life, even if by a different name, come with many of the same obstacles and emotions.

  2. siobhan says:

    A wise being, Goenka, whom by mentioning, you introduced me to. I was wondering if you could say more about the 10 day retreat (good for you!) in 1977, and any thoughts re Vipassana practice and dystonia.

  3. siobhan says:

    There is so much value, Tom, in all you have said, it is a whole world of reflection to return to and gain from. Your story continues to be moving, accompanied by all you have learned and which you share.
    I’m trying to deal with the courage that CD “asks” for in order to cope better. Dealing with the embarrassment, self criticism, shame, concern of what others think when i pull out my cervical collar. Love the quotes — Power over one’s mind and finding strength there, and re “pain nourishes courage”. How true it is. So much more you have included…..I was at a wedding this past weekend, of course dealing w. my neck, as we know, that can be a moment to moment experience! The live band playing was a gift from the Cosmos (!) of pure joy, the Pied Pipers affecting nearly everyone (old and young) to the dance floor packed for the entire evening. I lost myself to the inspiration. My friend asked about my neck — my neck does better w. this. Conclusion, play great music, dance around my apartment and make what i love more of my life.
    I feel gratitude to you Tom, as a treasured voice out there sharing as you do. I also am grateful to all who respond, and what is shared, re-enforcing that we are together in the Dystonia Community. That would be for this entry — Vye, Joan and Collette. It means a huge deal to me. I like knowing you are there. Best to all.

  4. Vye Dorman says:

    Tom is inspirational to all of us with dystonia. I bought his book a few years ago and it is always close by. I was coping with dystonia but with his book I took a lot of the advice (not all worked for me) but I worked what worked and that was my diet changed, my attitude to life, I was determined then that Dystonia would never own me. Difficult yes, but it works and I never thought I would have the courage to make the moves we did when we did. Instead of being stuck we moved to the Coast, my diet is healthy (with the odd binge) it is so important to be honest and we will never meet anyone as honest or as caring as having Tom as a friend. His book is well worth a read. I have to also acknowledge I have the best neurologist ever, he has changed my life and I actually look forward to my visits with him. Thank you Tom, dystonia helped me find a great friend and I feel blessed for that.

  5. Joan says:

    The timing of this subject is spot on for me today. I know I have been anxious about things that are out of my control, leaving me feeling fearful and stressed. “Normally”, I would go for a run, which was helpful in some ways, but I didn’t take the time to sit with the pain–the fear, the angst, the dread. I realize now that it’s important to acknowledge and accept the pain instead of trying to sweep it under the rug. Thanks for sharing this empowering message!

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Hi Joan- Thank you very much for your message and I’m happy to hear that this came at a good time for you. Feeling fearful and stressed is something I know all too well, It can be paralyzing. For so many years I ran from it and tries to sweep it under the rug, but it kept following me…… Sitting with it has been so much more helpful, but it goes against everything our mind and body tell us to do which is fight, fight, fight! I think this approach just ramps up the nervous system more. I think the real fight is learning to live with things that we find unpleasurable, and then not giving up on ourselves when things get tough!

  6. Collette Hurley says:

    So brilliant Tom. So helpful with many good reminders. May you be happy, peaceful and liberated . (Goenka – Vipassana teacher from Burma. I did my first 10-day silent retreat with him in India in 1977).

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Thank you very much Collette!! Thank you also for sharing that from your teacher. I like it a lot. May you also be happy, peaceful and liberated 🙂

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