4 ways to control pain with your mind

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Can you control pain with your mind?

There are a lot of people living in pain who are unhappy, lacking in confidence and hurting. Chronic pain has a big psychological element as it often leads to self-imposed isolation. This loss of a social network then leads to anxiety, depression and a tendency for the pain to take over, so it’s all someone can think about.

Acute pain is generated in the peripheral nervous system, which sends danger signals to the brain. The brain then determines if it will experience the pain signals or ignore them. In cases of chronic pain, that system has gone awry. If you are unable to train your brain to stop the alarm system, it will keep going off all the time. For example the pain may have started in the foot, but this can lead to a host of other symptoms such as headaches, chronic nausea, chronic fatigue, and back pain as the brain short-circuits.

Pain can then lead to unhelpful thought patterns.

But what if you could take your mind off the pain for a while?

You probably focus only on the pain and how it affects you in a negative way. The goal is to train your mind to switch off the bad thoughts and turn on the positives.

You will need to make changes using your:

  • thoughts
  • behaviours
  • emotions
  • and even your sensations

Positive Thinking – it’s important to think positively about what you have; good food, your loving family, a safe home. Being in pain still gives you the ability to enjoy life’s pleasures and you will be surprised how your levels of pain can be reduced by simply thinking with a positive attitude. Persistent pain can lead people to thinking that doing the things you want to do will lead to more pain. This can lead to a cycle of negative thoughts including, I am useless, I cannot do the things I like. You may feel unable to stop or block out your negative thoughts.

Instead of trying to battle with these thoughts you may be able to do things differently.

Mindfulness – relax your mind and body. Inactivity and tension can lead to pain. Learning how to relax your body and mind helps you to better mobilise, exercise, sleep and work and can be used specifically to help areas of pain such as generalised pain. Mindfulness is more about growing an awareness of your thoughts, paying attention and being in the moment. It is more of an acceptance of your thoughts and not wanting to stop or change them that helps, like watching or noticing them without concern. It is by making space in your everyday emotions that frees you from the shackles of distress or pain. You can retrain your brain to notice less of what is not helping. 

Exercise – people may restrict movement when they are in pain as they feel the pain requires them to rest to recover, but this can lead to further de-conditioning and a loss of stability, balance and mobility. Developing a range of movement such as stretching and bending is ideal to preserve existing functions as it gives you strength and stamina in your daily life. Exercise will also improve oxygen supply through better blood flow to help tissues function better over time. 

Distract Yourself – this doesn’t have to be complicated. When we are talking with our friends, walking the dog or going to the cinema sometimes we can forget and not notice the pain. If you focus on things outside of the pain this allows the mind and body to let go of the frustrations.

You may need to try a few different approaches until you find something that works for you. This may sound insignificant but it’s really important.

Once you have made changes and begin to see the benefits, it can be a great feeling and a worthwhile satisfaction. The changes will need to be maintained through practice and reflection.