Pain is 100% your brain’s response to a threat. That threat could be a localized tissue injury (broken bone, sprained ankle) or it could be a plethora of other triggers such as poor sleep, stress, sadness, lack of human connection or the foods we eat, for example. That does not mean your pain is not real. All pain is real. If you feel it, it is there. The question is, what made your brain decide your body is under a state of threat?
The brain is complex and pain actually has more in common with feelings of love or anger than it is an accurate response to injury. Why do you love someone? It’s complicated. It’s based on your past experiences, sensory input (vision–are they attractive to you–smells, sounds–is their voice soothing or annoying), and then there are those other factors that you just can’t explain. They may not in your accessible consciousness but they are there. Feelings can also be situational. We all know it can be easier to feel in love when you’re relaxed and at ease.
Pain is similar. It is complicated and a part of our bodies’ protective mechanisms. But we have been led to believe pain is only due to a localized injury and when it is unexplainable we must not be able to find “IT.” We are left chasing the it. Give it a medication, take it out with surgery. Test it with MRI and Xrays. Why is IT still here?
We have to stop looking for IT and start to look at the body as in a state of threat. Where is your threat coming from? You have the power to identify the various threats. Anything that is perceived as dangerous to your body and mind will contribute to the threatened state. Some aspects are more within your power to control (diet, exercise, sleep), some are more challenging (relationships, work, the world at large). The first step is to identify this new story of pain. If we can begin to identify our threats, we can start to create an environment in which healing can occur.
What is making your body and mind feel threatened? Let me show you my 360 approach. I am a work in progress, no different than most of you. Ok, all of us.
Here is where I start:
- Sleep: I need 7.5 -8 hours. Right now I have a puppy. This is not happening and I feel it. My body aches more and I tend to make worse food decisions with less sleep. I am quicker to snap. I need sleep. Who wants a puppy?
- Exercise: I need to move my body. Do something and it has to feel good. It can’t feel hard or stressful. Start with moving the way you want. For me that is a hike or long walk in the woods. My blood pressure drops when I am outside. I become focused and clear. My brain feeds on this activity.
- Nutrition: This is an area I need help. My husband is the cook, I prepare meals and make sure the kids are fed, I do not cook. It is a joke in my house that I burn everything. It is pretty accurate. Since this area is a challenge for me, I make my goals small. Goals need to be small so they are successful.
- Friends: I need to laugh. Schedule time to connect and laugh.
This is just a partial list and examples of prioritizing a healing environment. When you are stressed and in pain it is not easy to prioritize yourself and guidance can be very helpful. Everyone’s personal needs and abilities in these areas are different, but discovering what your body and mind need, and making your physical and emotional needs a priority can make a huge difference in how you experience pain and respond to stressors.
Come to our workshop on Healing Persistent Pain October 13, 2018 to find out more about the science of pain, recent brain imaging that validates this approach, and a unique tool developed by Dr. Gina Ogden that we have adapted for those who suffer with chronic pain.