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During our lives, we all endure some type of physical pain. Hopefully, over time, the pain fades as our body heals and we become whole again. Sometimes the pain will periodically rear itself in the same place. Over time, if this continues, it is referred to as ”chronic pain”. Many times, physical pain is linked with emotional pain. An example would be a car accident in which a person is hurt and someone close to us dies. In this case, the link to the physical injury also brings a feeling of loss.
Chronic pain can destroy lives. It can devastate hope, eliminate future happiness and take all the fun out of living. Many times chronic pain sufferers feel they were singled out, that life is unfair or in some way, they are never going to live a “normal life.” Without suggesting that it is all in your head, meaning you are making it up, it is interesting to note that in many studies which test the effectiveness of pain relievers and pain medicine, often the simple use of a placebo can reduce pain in nearly 50% of the recipients. Conversely, it is noted historically that more than 70% of chronic pain sufferers that take pain medicine still feel pain. The question is why? To understand why, first you need to know…
How Pain Works
Pain is an emotion. It is not a sense like sight or hearing. It is the opposite of pleasure. We have used pain to describe our lives, such as, he is a real pain in the neck, it pains me to tell you this, he died of a broken heart, etc. These metaphors typify the way we see pain, however, an understanding of how the body records pain is important.
From the point of injury or disease, pain follows a very complex web of nerves and pathways before it gets to our brain. In a way it is kind of like a tiny Internet. The message is sent from one point to another, being relayed to another section and eventually making it’s way to the brain. It takes a very short time, fractions of a second, but the message does get there. We stub our toe and the message travels to the spinal cord. It travels upward, reaches the brain gate, another relay, and sends the message to the subconscious mind. It is then relayed to the conscious mind where it is evaluated. Judging by the signal, the toe may be moved or, if it is a big enough message, we might yell, “Ouch!”
No Brain – No Pain
The important thing to note, the pain is experienced in the brain, not in the area that was damaged. It may seem like it was felt in the toe, however, without your brain, you cannot feel the pain. In an operation when you are under a general anesthetic, portions of your brain, which register pain, are deadened. When the surgeon cuts your skin, the pain messages are sent from the cut, however, they are not being registered anywhere. Therefore, you do not feel any pain. It is interesting to know that in spite of the fact that you feel pain in your toe, only by using the brain to encode the signal, that the brain itself cannot feel pain. Your brain does not have any of its own nerve endings. Therefore if we opened your skull and pinched your brain tissue, you would not feel anything at all. Which makes the whole idea of headaches, quite a puzzle. More on that later.
Two Way Street
Getting back to the example of stubbing your toe… So the brain receives via various relays a message that the toe has been hurt. You scream, “Ouch!” Now what? The brain sends a message to the area, in this case, the toe, that it hurts and we need some relief. A chemical is now released by the body to block the pain signals being sent. These chemicals are called “endorphins.” It is the body’s response to control your “threshold” of pain. Endorphins are like naturally occurring painkillers. With practice and understanding of the dynamics of pain, a person can learn how to control the level of endorphins released into the body, therefore controlling their pain. We all produce different levels of endorphins at different times. They are not the only factor in how much pain we feel, but they are important.
Fast Pain and Slow Pain
Fast pain is linked to our pain threshold and it warns of sudden or immediate localized injury. This way you can pull your fingers out of a door or move your head when bumped. Slow pain is deeper and works differently. Instead of a quick movement, you might become rigid or stiff, almost bracing yourself (i.e., biting a bullet). In either case, the idea behind pain is to get our attention. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it always gets our attention.
Learn to Control Pain and You’ll Overcome It
Much of what happens in the pain cycle has to do with energy. The more pain you feel, the more energy you use to fight it. The body wants to brace itself. You tense up in the hopes of not feeling it and instead, you lose energy. You only have a certain amount of energy and if you are always trying to fight pain, eventually you will lose enough energy and the pain will overtake you. Chronic pain sufferers will typically also suffer from chronic fatigue. They also are noted for depression since they eventually reach a point where they begin to feel hopeless. Statistically, 60% of depression sufferers also experience pain of some kind.
So, how do we control our energy and therefore control our pain? The first step is to understand that as we surrender to the pain in our body and allow it to control us, we lose more energy. The first thing you might think as you read that is to think that to exert control is to tense up and fight back, right? Wrong. We have a tendency to think of control as something we must exert, willfully fighting back. So often you see the man biting the bullet in an action movie as something of a pain control method. Yet, oddly enough when you see the bearded man lying on a bed of nails, he seems rather calm. Could you imagine if he was tensing his body to try and lay on the nails? He would probably be feeling a bit of pain. What is happening in this case is the complete absence of pain. How? Two things happen. First he has instructed his subconscious mind to close all the pain gates and to not send any messages of pain to the conscious mind. In effect he has shut off the pain. Secondly, he has effectively learned how to allow endorphins to rush into his body and give him a sense of calm, in some cases euphoria. Many of us have heard the stories of marathon runners who have run a grueling 25 miles and their whole body aches, yet they pass right through that pain and into a “runner’s high” which is described as almost like floating. How? Endorphins.
7 Steps to Controlling Pain
1. Learn How to sleep: Not just laying down and tossing and turning all night, but real restful, peaceful, restoring sleep. Now you may say, “I can’t sleep, I am in pain.” In many cases the lack of sleep and proper rest is the very reason why they have given into sleep. There are natural herbal remedies for sleep, however, spend time learning how to put yourself into deep sleep. It can be learned using self-help audio tapes or by self-hypnosis, but it is vital for controlling and eliminating pain.
2. Learn How to Relax: We are not talking about sitting in front of a TV and watching sitcoms. Learn how to close your eyes and quietly go within and release stress and tension. This is another essential part of the equation. Do not overlook this and do not confuse relaxing with Sleep. These are two completely different animals. The cases of people grinding their teeth, or reacting in some stressful way during sleep, are too numerous to mention. Sleep can be relaxing, but it is not the kind of relaxing we are talking about here. Again, there are self-healing tapes available, or you can just listen to gentle music or the sounds of nature while you visualize peaceful settings. There are other disciplines such as tai chi, or mediation, yoga or just laying still using self-hypnosis. But you need to learn something if you are going to beat the pain cycle.
3. Learn How to Exercise: Many will say, “I cannot exercise – I am in pain!” While this may be true in some cases, most of the time it is just an excuse. Obviously don’t exercise if you are going to hurt yourself, however, there are times when you are not in pain and there are things you can more than likely do that are not painful to your injury or condition. The kind of exercise that works best is aerobic type of exercise, daily if possible, but at least three to four times per week for at least 15 to 25 minutes. First, you will feel better about yourself. Secondly, it releases endorphins into the body and allows your overall energy to be more fluid. When your body is regulated properly, you just feel better.
4. Eat Right: Stop running your body into the ground with fast food and empty calories. See your doctor or nutritionist. Again, eating the right nutrients, getting your body to feel better starts with an overall attitude toward the way you treat your body. If you are mad at your body and feed it improperly, it will certainly backfire. If you are overweight, start a reducing plan and make sure it is realistic. If you are underweight, the same thing holds true. Make sure you are giving yourself high-test, energy rich foods. Remember, this is all about energy.
5. Do Your Inner Work: It is not a coincidence that most people who go to some form of counseling or therapy also suffer from some sort of physical pain. Pain in the back, neck or chest, stomach ailments, irritable bowels, spastic colon or headaches are just a few of the physical manifestations of stress brought on by continuous and repeated negative thoughts. Start reading, attending healing seminars, go to therapy, learn how to meditate – begin a healing process immediately. Learn how to let go of the past and the control it has over you. Sometimes physical pain is the body’s way of reaching out for unresolved and repressed conflict. Don’t ignore your body’s natural warning signs.
6. Stop Complaining: Take a survey of the friends, family and people around you. Ask them how often you discuss your pain. You are very aware of how it feels to have pain. Without knowing it, you may be broadcasting your pain to those around you for attention and sympathy. Keep in mind that it is quite often the case that people around you will treat you differently because they expect you to be in pain. Those expectations feed the pain cycle. Learn how to dismiss pain. Focus on what it likes to feel good, not on how bad it feels to be in pain. We talk to ourselves at more than 10,000 words per minute. So watch that self-talk – you might be your own worst enemy. Even when you are not 100%, next time someone says how are you, reply, “Great!” Even if it is not entirely true, and convince them that you are doing better. When you do this, you send a strong message to your own subconscious mind.
7. Keep Your Focus: Keep the long view in mind. Start a campaign of mental images in your mind that show you pain-free. Focus on being pain-free. Remember times when you were without pain. Focus on them and picture yourself like that again. Meditate, pray, visualize – anything that puts you into a relaxed state. Learn how to retrain your mind to focus on the positive, the pain-free state that you desire and need.
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