Blog

The Missing “Key” to Reducing Chronic Pain

Cure Chronic Pain Through Mindset Changes

If you brush off chronic pain as a simple sensation, that’s the wrong approach. Pain is influenced strongly by the way our brain processes the pain signals. You might already know that chronic pain can evoke strong emotional reactions like terror, fear, and anxiety. These reactions usually depend on how the individual perceives their pain signals. 

Pain Isn’t Just a Physical Phenomenon.

Do you know according to the American Pain Foundation, nearly 50 million Americans are affected by chronic pain? The most common pain drivers include arthritis, migraines, and nerve damage. But, in most cases, emotional trauma enhances the individual’s sense of misery. Jeannie Sperry, a psychologist, and co-chairperson of Mayo Clinic’s division of addiction, transplant, and pain, states that a lot of Americans are hurting and hence, unhappy.

“We have a lot of people in this country who are unhappy, isolated, and hurting. Depression hurts. Anxiety hurts. It’s rare for people to have chronic pain without one of these co-morbidities,” Sperry asserted.

And, there’s no denying the fact that chronic pain does come with a psychological element. Pain often compels the patient to undergo self-imposed isolation. The loss of social networks usually causes anxiety and depression among the patients, which makes them catastrophize the pain. 

That’s why, when you are experiencing chronic pain, such as migraine or back pain, all you can think about is the pain. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, If you have treated the pain medically, such as through steroid injections, opioids, or surgery, it is least likely to go away entirely. That’s why only 58% of patients who rely more on prescription painkillers agree that drugs are an effective remedy to manage chronic pain. Pain management researcher and the University of Texas, Arlington’s professor Robert Gatchel states that previously pain was considered a physical issue, but this approach has led to making it worse.

“In the past, pain was viewed just as a physical issue. The thought was, if you cut something out, the pain will go away — but lo and behold, it doesn’t in many cases, and sometimes [the pain] gets worse.”

Can You Escape Pain?

Like animals, humans are born with an inborn drive to escape the pain. That’s why when you touch something very hot, you quickly pull your hand away from it. That’s the escape plan for which we have been programmed since birth. This automated reaction that you show when facing adversity is a product of our hardwired biology. Our bodies are attuned to stay healthy and survive against the odds. 

When your body experiences severe, ongoing pain that comes from within the body, escaping isn’t as easy. Around 100 million Americans are facing this chronic agony since severe pain is more prevalent than heart disease, diabetes, and cancer cases combined. This naturally impacts their quality of life drastically.

You can turn to medications to treat this pain, but even drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen (e.g. Tylenol) can have several downsides. On the other hand, psychological approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help you program your brain in a way that it forgets about the pain. To learn more about this, you need to understand the mind-body connection.

The Mind-Body Connection

Living with chronic pain is definitely not easy. But you might have heard many a time that it’s all in your head. It sounds weird, but it is true that chronic pain is usually invisible, and for most of us, seeing is believing. That’s where the mind-body connection regarding chronic pain comes into play. Also dubbed mind-body medicine by physicians, this concept is gaining popularity among experts as a potent way to manage pain on your own. 

Chronic pain is generated in our brain’s peripheral nervous system. This system is responsible for transmitting danger signals to the brain so that it could determine whether or not to experience the pain signals. So, when chronic pain occurs, this system goes awry unless you know how to train your brain to shut off this alarm system. If you cannot do this, the alarm will keep going off all the time. So the pain may have emerged in one of the legs, the patient will end up experiencing s host of other symptoms like headaches, nausea, fatigue, and back pain. This indicates there has been a short circuit in the brain. 

Research reveals that since pain involves both the body and the mind, mind-body therapies can alleviate it by altering how you perceive pain. The way you feel pain is influenced by several factors, such as your genetic makeup, personality, emotional state, past experiences, and lifestyle. If you have been experiencing chronic pain for a while, this is a sign your brain has already rewired itself to perceive pain signals even when these signals are not being sent.

How does Mindset Shift help?

It doesn’t matter whether you have backache, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or another type of acute pain that interferes with your day-to-day routine. What matters is to find a way to relieve this discomfort without relying on drugs. It may sound unbelievable, but it is indeed true that all those tried-and-tested mind healing techniques like yoga and meditation can help reduce pain. It all happens because you learn to control your brain and prevent it from sending out pain signals. In other words, it means changing your mindset regarding how you perceive pain.

A negative pain mindset, which means feeling how awfully painful you are or expecting your condition to worsen, can amplify the brain’s pain processing power. So, what you need to do to cure chronic pain without using medications is to steer your mind away from catastrophically negative patterns of thought.

So instead of telling yourself that the pain is awful and you have to live with it, use some soothing and supportive statements like “this pain will go away soon, and I will focus on adopting a better self-care routine,” or “this is a temporary phase, and I will be fine soon.”

The idea is to cultivate a sense of safety and relax your mind and body. This sense of safety will deal with the ingrained danger signal associate with acute pain. You can easily compel your mind to create altered sensations like cold or hot in a non-painful hand and place it on the aching portion of your body and envision transferring this altered but pleasant sensation into the painful area. Through simple exercises like this, you can condition your brain as you want to and enjoy considerable control over your emotions and sensations.

One of the best ways to relax the body and train the mind is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to remain present and aware of your circumstances, what you are doing, where you are, without getting overreactive or overwhelmed by whatever is going around you. 

It simply means to keep your thoughts focused and remain aware of the moment. 

Wondering what you need to focus on to practice mindfulness? It could be an image, emotion, or a word. Anything can be used to meditate and focus. Sounds simple, right? It isn’t as simple as it appears to be. Your mind will find it difficult to focus on a single thing, at least initially. As you begin to meditate, your mind will stray a lot, and you will need to turn the attention back to the problem at hand.

Breathing is a simple way to be mindful and it refers to forming a connection between the body and mind. A major part of medication revolves around this technique. When you feel stressed, your mind starts generating random, stray thoughts, taking a deep breath, exhaling, and then inhaling again. Do it several times. Keep your focus on the breathing as it flows part of your nostrils or lips, reaches the lungs, and warmly goes out. It can be done anywhere and takes a minute or two of your day, but the impacts will last way longer.

Another way is to do a guided mindful meditation. This allows you to listen and relax as you go through a body scan to be present to any pain you might be feeling. The key is not to judge the pain, but just to be present and allow it.

 

 

To download a free 10-minute mindfulness meditation, click the picture below.