by Jim Aberdein, Humans Givens and based on How to Liberate Yourself from Pain by Grahame Brown
All pain has a psychological as well as a physical component. Whatever kind of pain you suffer, it can always be diminished.
A good first step is to learn about pain and understand it, especially the role played by your brain. When you do this, you are more than half-way to diminishing pain or even banishing it.
How to liberate yourself from pain by Dr Grahame Brown with Denise Winn, (HG Publishing 2009) is a great source of information, simply and clearly written with a wealth of explanation, examples and helpful
For example, the brain doesn’t just react to pain, it can also set up the reaction. Factors from the brain that increase pain include:
Not wanting to move the injured area for fear of making it worse and fear of the consequences of ill-health such as losing a job or not being able to pay bills all exacerbate pain.
Fear, anxiety and stress all increase muscle tension, which, if maintained, soon starts to hurt.
They all release stress hormones too, which, if not dissipated, exacerbate the pain.
Anger and frustration when, for example, doctors cannot find the cause of pain encourage the pain to get bigger until someone finally acknowledges that it is real. Also, some people may not feel able to express their anger or may decide there is nothing that can be done about their situation and so suffer in silence but being in a continuous state of anger
exacerbates the pain.
Catastrophising or ‘imagine the worst’ thinking such as, ‘Nothing I do will ever make it better’ or ‘My whole life is ruined now’, sadly just makes the pain worse.
All pain is perceived in the brain and if your thoughts are focused on how terrible and excruciating the pain is those are the pain experiences you are most likely to have.
People who suffer post-traumatic symptoms such as intrusive images, nightmares and loss of emotional feeling, often report persistent pain as well. The experience of emotional abuse in childhood has been identified in at least half of patients in hospital outpatient clinics who have medically unexplained whole body pain syndromes.
People who suffer from persistent or recurrent painful conditions such as migraines, stomach problems and back pain, are far more likely to suffer from psychological ill-health, the most common forms of which are anxiety and depression.
There is a compelling theory (1) that we have to act out emotional arousals of the day in our dreams in order to neutralise them. This explains how excessive worry, which depressed people do in abundance, leads to excessive dreaming, which uses up massive amounts of energy and
reduces the time available for slow wave sleep, which the body needs to repair and maintain its tissues.
A person who is depressed wakes up tired, isn’t healing properly and their pain feels worse. They are then likely to stop going out and doing things they enjoy, to become increasingly isolated, to dwell on their problems and hurt even more.
Black and white thinking.
People who are emotionally aroused also think emotionally in simple black or white terms. Either I am in pain or I am not in pain, which sadly, leaves no room for lessening the pain.
Paying attention to the pain.
What we focus on is what we get so just thinking about the pain
increases it. Also, trying to protect an area and not injure oneself further creates muscle tension. When we amplify the tension, we amplify the pain.
Knowing what exacerbates pain enables us to find ways to diminish it. These include;
Identify any obstacles to reducing your pain.
For example, might you have to go back to a job you hate, is there any compensation due that is linked to the pain you experience or was there something else going on in your life when the pain started? Maybe a change in your situation is
what is needed to alleviate your distress.
Do an audit of your emotional needs.
If any are not being met, that would be a cause of stress and pain.
Learn how to relax quickly and deeply.
7/11 breathing, guided imagery and mindfulness are all tried and tested techniques. There are many others. Find what works for you.
Read Jim’s article “Tips for a better night’s sleep“
Think about the language you use and the way you look at things.
Rather than saying, “I have severe arthritis” try, “I have some age-related changes that most people experience as they grow older.”
Instead of, “Pain is an utterly miserable experience”, try, “I think of pain as a reminder to get on and do all the things I want to do in life, instead of putting them off.”
Expect the best.
Research shows that expectations have a big impact on our perception of pain.
In one experiment, volunteers subjected to ‘severe’ pain, still experienced it as moderate if that is what they were told to expect. What you tell yourself is powerful!
Get help for any especially painful memories such as those that sometimes follow a traumatic experience.
These can keep your stress levels elevated and exacerbate your pain. The rewind technique can heal all kinds of post-traumatic stress and, as practised by Human Givens therapists, has a 78% success rate with combat veterans referred via the charity PTSD Resolution.
When we concentrate on one thing we are less aware of other things. There
are many things you can do to distract yourself and immediately cut your perception of pain. Go for a walk, read a book, phone a friend (but don’t talk about pain) or become absorbed in a hobby.
Make exercise a challenge but not a chore.
You don’t have to join a gym. You can build exercise into your daily routine by walking instead of driving or catching the bus and by taking the stairs
whenever you can.
Set realistic goals.
It is much more motivating if you can identify what you want rather than what you don’t want. Of course, you don’t want to be in pain but being able to pick up a young grandchild for a cuddle is a lovely, positive and practical goal that a person can work toward.
Actively working toward such a goal puts you back in control and feeling some control over what is happening to us is crucial for both our physical and mental health.
Remember too that even if it hurts a bit, you are not doing harm to yourself.
Hurt is not the same as harm.
Use your own imagination to help.
Rather than worrying, which is a terrible misuse of your imagination, use your imagination to help you relax and minimise your pain.
To take just one example, imagine that the pain is a person.
Researchers at Bangor University found that sufferers from rheumatoid arthritis could control their pain better when they visualised their pain in the form of a person, thanked that ‘person’ for alerting them to the problem area and then imagined asking the ‘person’ to leave, visualising them getting further and further away and finally disappearing altogether, leaving the sufferer free of pain.
What we expect to happen to us is more likely to happen to us because the brain is then ‘programmed’ to make it happen. As long, of course, as it is a reasonably realistic expectation. So, in your imagination, you can, for example, rehearse exercising successfully or sleeping more comfortably at night.
Take care of yourself.
Eat healthily, work at getting out and about, have fun, have a coping
strategy or three lined up in case you have a lapse of confidence while out, do something thoughtful for someone else, laugh at something every day and have good expectations. Remember ‘What you focus on is what you get’.
1 The expectation fulfilment theory of why we dream. It is described in detail in Why we dream, the definitive
answer, Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, HG Publishing 2014