Managing chronic pain effectivley can be challenging for a number of reasons, but it is well worth the effort to bring healing to this condition, which is now considered to be a disease of the brain.
What Is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is any pain – physical, emotional or spiritual, it doesn’t matter to the brain, since all of these types of pain send the same signal “It hurts” to the brain – that is felt 15 days out of 30 for three months or more.
The Extent of The Problem
More than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. This number translates to one in every four citizens. This phenomenon reaches across all socio-economic as one in four children suffer from chronic pain. The estimates for the financial costs of this are now around $650 billion each year in the United States alone.
The Nature of The Problem
Many doctors view chronic pain as a condition from which there is no cure because it is difficult to explain. As a chronic pain sufferer, I met many doctors who looked at chronic pain this way. Most of them, in fact. It took me decades to find a doctor that understood the true nature of chronic pain and how to address it before I received the help in healing it.
The chronic pain sufferer’s pain levels vary from day to day – and moment to moment, based on how your mind and body respond to the sensations you are feeling. As an example, when an area of the body is damaged, the body adjusts to this protectively by limiting movement in the affected area. This can cause muscle tension and increase the pain signal.
Our reaction to the condition of chronic pain often is to reduce our activity level. Muscles weaken and then may hurt more easily when used.
Feelings of worry, anxiety and frustration coupled with the sense of loss of control also magnify the experience of pain. Our emotional state can make a painful situation even worse.
These are just a few ways the mind and body interact:
When you suffer from chronic pain, we often experience more pain when with movement, so you tend to become physically inactive. However, this inactivity leads to a negative spiral where you lose strength and flexibility. The weaker you become, the more frustration you feel. This powerful negative emotion then in turn causes your pain level to increase.
You may be determined to prove to yourself that you can continue to be physically active. In the strength of your determination, you may overexert yourself. This then also leads to stronger pain signals, more frustration and then more pain.
Other people – family members, friends, co-workers, etc. – may not fully understand the extent of your suffering. They might even go so far as to say something like “your pain isn’t real.” This breakdown in communication then can stimulate frustration, which then spurs more pain.
Other people – family members, friends, co-workers, etc. – may indulge in pampering you and making excuses for you. Such actions make you feel inadequate. You may become unnecessarily dependent on them. This then can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, which then can increase pain levels.
Techniques to Manage Chronic Pain
These contributors to such a negative spiraling of your pain can be shifted. You can find more ease and peace using a few simple yet powerful techniques to manage your chronic pain:
Energy flows where attention goes. Instead of keeping your attention on the pain, turn your attention to the breath.
What are you saying to yourself?
Part of the changes in the brain chronic pain causes is stronger negativity in the mind. Objectively examine what you are telling yourself about your pain and your situation. Ask yourself, “Is this true?” Challenge those negative thoughts that arise with your pain. Thoughts like, “I will never get better”, or “I can’t believe this is happening to me”, or “I must deserve this pain” are all common examples of the games the mind plays with you around the suffering of chronic pain.
Cultivate positive emotion
You can switch your negative inner dialogue to a more healthful one by bringing in gratitude. Turn your attention to at least three things you are grateful for and you will likely find a shift towards ease of your pain level.
Your breath gets shortened when you are suffering with chronic pain. This is in reaction to our nervous system’s sympathetic response to the pain. Studies have shown that lengthening the exhale can help alleviate pain by stimulating the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic response. Just increase the length and duration of your exhale to find greater ease in your body. Diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”) can help reduce your pain experience. There are other helpful breathing techniques that help release the tension of chronic pain, such as long, deep, even inhale-exhale breathing, box breathing, left nostril breathing and alternate nostril breathing.
Release judgment and control
Judging the pain as ‘bad’ only locks it in deeper, feeding the negative cycle. Further, the more you try and control the pain, the tighter its grip wraps around you. Try to drop your judgment of your experience. Surrender to your experience rather that resist it – if only for a moment. Notice how that feels after your try it a few times.
Quiet the mind
Mindfulness meditation has been found to help heal the changes in the brain brought about by chronic brain. Find a guided meditation that you find comforting. Meditate with a mantra. Join a meditation group. Sit quietly in silence, simply breathing and listening to your breath and your heartbeat. Two, 20-minute sessions a day of this practice will help quiet your mind.
Try these tools to manage your chronic pain symptoms effectively. Please let me know how they work for you!