In recent years a lot of people began taking painkillers in an effort to reduce their pain. Nobody wants to take more pills, they just want less pain! Most people do not know that it’s possible to have both: less pain and fewer pills.
Reducing pain and medication use involve tapping into your best pain relief resource: your brain.
It’s easy to focus on pain when you hurt—after all, your brain is hard-wired to be attuned to pain. If your brain stays focused on pain, or if you persistently worry and are upset about it, your pain will worsen. Results from scientific studies clearly show that in the context of pain, these negative psychological factors heighten pain processing in the brain and nervous system, and, as a result, your pain gets worse. And, over time these thoughts and emotions become a habit in your brain making it easier and easier to think and feel in ways that amplify pain.
The trick is to learn ways to shift these negative patterns and train your brain away from pain. Here are some quick tips to help you get started.
1. Remind yourself that you always get through it. Instead of focusing on your pain, remind yourself that pain flares come and go and this too shall pass. Nothing lasts forever, you will get through this pain episode just like you have gotten through pain in the past.
2. Make a game of it. Start noticing your thoughts—your self-talk—and make a game of coming up with positive statements to replace any negative thoughts you typically have. Write positive thoughts and statements on flash cards. Pull out a flash card when you hear yourself thinking negative thoughts. The card will interrupt the negative focus in your brain and will help redirect your negative thoughts toward relief.
3. Use the power of “best friend talk.” As you notice your self-talk, ask yourself, “Would I say that to my best friend?” Create positive statements—the supportive and kind statements you would share with your best friend—and begin telling them to yourself. Talk to yourself as if you were encouraging your best friend with her pain. It’s comforting and it works.
4. Make a list of simple, nurturing things you can do for yourself. This works almost like giving yourself a hug. It might be taking a bath, listening to music you love, calling a friend. Everyone creates comfort when in pain and focusing on creating comfort is a great way to shift your focus away from pain. Feeling pleasure, even if just for a brief time, interferes with your brain’s pain circuitry. It’s part of “re-wiring” your brain away from pain. Little interruptions lead to big changes in pain over time. There’s a hidden power in doing something positive for yourself—even something small.
5. Be Gentle with yourself. Often, chronic pain can bring up unpleasant feelings of anger, disappointment, loss and sadness. You may even feel anger at your body for having pain in the first place and not being able to do some of the things you love. Be compassionate with yourself and recognize that you—and your body—are doing your best. When you start to feel bad take a soothing action right away. That will move your energy in a positive direction.
Learn more about how to use the power of pain psychology to reduce pain and medication in The Opioid-Free Pain Relief Kit: 10 Simple Steps to Ease Your Pain.
Beth Darnall, Ph.D. is the author of The Opioid-Free Pain Relief Kit: 10 Simple Steps to Ease Your Pain (Bull Publishing, 2016) which includes a CD to induce deep, brain-changing relaxation, and your personal plan for pain relief. Darnall’s approach teaches patients to reduce their own pain and suffering, thereby reducing need for doctors and pills. Beth D. Darnall, Ph.D. is Clinical Associate Professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at Stanford University and treats individuals and groups at the Stanford Pain Management Center. As a pain psychologist, she has 15 years of experience treating adults with chronic pain, and has lived through her own chronic pain experience. Please visitwww.bethdarnall.com and follow her on Twitter @bethdarnall