Pains that we experience are caused by mental processes that can be affected by thoughts and emotions. Scientists still don't now everything about the connection between processes in the mind and the body but what we are certain is that the brain, attitudes and emotions influence the way physical pain is experienced.
For example, meditation is good for pain relief as it lowers brain activity in your primary somatosensory cortex, which creates the sense of a location and intensity of a painful stimulus. Laughter alleviates pain as well because it releases endorphins that activate brain receptors that produce pain-killing and euphoria-like feeling. This mind-body interaction goes both ways - chronic physical pain often triggers depression. Apart from meditating and laughing, there are other techniques to help fighting chronic pains and depression. Below you can find 13 of them.
1. Emotional Freedom Technique
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a type of psychological acupressure based on energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional diseases for over five thousand years, but needles aren't used in this practice. To move kinetic energy to particular meridians, practitioners tap with their fingertips while you think about your issue and say positive affirmations. This combination of tapping the energy meridians and saying positive affirmation brings your mind and body to balance and clears the emotional block.
2. Massage Therapy
Massage brings a vast amount of health benefits, even typical hospitals recognize it as a therapy. Apart from relaxing your muscles and boosting your happiness level, massage is known to:
Manage stress, anxiety and depression, and ease insomnia
Reduce symptoms of Premenstrual syndrome
Relax injured muscles, decrease cramping
Relieve arthritis by making joints more flexible
3. Practice Mindfulness
“Mindfulness” is paying active attention to the present. It means being fully engaged in the moment. While it sounds easy, it frequently requires a hard effort to stay mindful. If you try though, you will experience great benefits to your physical and emotional health. Not only it reduces inflammation, but also helps fighting stress and depression. “Mindfulness meditation — focusing on your breath and each present moment — can lessen cancer pain, low back pain and migraine headaches". Scientists at Brown University found women with chronic pelvic pain feeling much better and with decreased pain after practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is like transcendental meditation, the point of which is to dive into “restful” alertness, which allows you to ignore negative thoughts. You can easily try this meditation at home: simply sit down in a comfortable position, turn on some soothing music if you like, breathe rhythmically and concentrate on your breath, a flower, an image, a candle, a mantra or anything else. Try this type of meditation for just four days and your will start noticing changes.
4. Try Biofeedback
In biofeedback, electrical sensors are attached to your skin so you can see any alternations in your body so you receive feedback that helps you reach a deeper state of relaxation. You can also learn to control your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension through your mind. Psychologist Rex Schmidt says:
“Through focus and mental strategies, biofeedback induces the relaxation response and gives you a greater sense of control.”
5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is tensing and relaxing all your muscle groups from head to toe, one by one.
“Studies show that whether PMR is used on its own or with guided imagery, it helps ease emotional distress and pain from cancer, osteoarthritis, surgery and other conditions.”
6. Tai Chi
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice and a part of Qigong — exercises that build up the qi (life energy). This practice is often called "moving meditation" because it consists of elemenets that logically flow into another. As you practice, concentrate on how you move, your breath and relaxation. Being very gentle, tai chi is suitable for almost everyone - even if you are confined to a wheelchair this practice is for you.
Breathing deeply is highly beneficial as it helps to relax the whole body and fills your brain with oxygen. One of the most effective yet simple breathing practices was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. As you start your practice, remember three numbers - four, seven and eight. Sit up straight in a comfortable position, touch the back of your front teeth with the tip of your tongue. Inhale silently through the nose and count to four. Counting to seven, hold your breath and then breathe out through the mouth while counting to eight. That was one full breath. For a complete practice, four full breaths are required.
Hypnosis, which is a trance-like state in which you experience heightened focus and concentration, can help decrease pain by altering your emotional responses to your body’s pain signals and your thoughts about the pain. Contrary to popular belief, you do not relinquish control over your behavior while under hypnosis, but it does render you more open to suggestions from the hypnotherapist. “Studies show that hypnosis can help manage the pain from childbirth and metastatic breast cancer as well as chronic low back pain. What’s more, cognitive hypnotherapy can lead to less depression, anxiety and hopelessness among depressed people than cognitive behavioral therapy does, according to research from the University of Calgary in Canada.”
9. Music Therapy
If you’re a music lover, you already know that turning on the tunes can help calm your nerves, make stress disappear, pump up your energy level during a workout, bring back old memories, as well as prompt countless other emotions. When you listen to music, much more is happening in your body than simple auditory processing. Music triggers activity in the nucleus accumbens, a part of your brain that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and is involved in forming expectations. At the same time, the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotion, and the prefrontal cortex, which makes possible abstract decision-making, are also activated, according to recent research published in the journal Science. Other research revealed listening to music resulted in less anxiety and lower cortisol levels among patients about to undergo surgery than taking anti-anxiety drugs: “…[R]esearchers in Cleveland found that when [burn] patients listened to music and used visual imagery as a distraction when their wound dressings were being changed, they experienced significantly less pain, anxiety and muscle tension. In a study in Norway, depressed people who had music therapy plus psychotherapy were less depressed and anxious and more functional than those who just did regular therapy.” Musical preference varies widely between individuals, so only you can decide what will effectively put you in a particular mood. Overall, classical music tends to be among the most calming, so may be worth a try. To incorporate music into a busy schedule, try playing CDs while driving, or put on some tunes while you’re getting ready for work in the morning. You can also take portable music with you when walking the dog, or turn on the stereo instead of watching TV in the evening.
Yoga has been proven to be particularly beneficial if you suffer with back pain, but recent research also suggests it can also be of tremendous benefit for your mental health. Duke University researchers recently published a review of more than 100 studies looking at the effect of yoga on mental health, and according to lead author Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Duke University Medical Center: “Most individuals already know that yoga produces some kind of a calming effect. Individually, people feel better after doing the physical exercise. Mentally, people feel calmer, sharper, maybe more content. We thought it’s time to see if we could pull all [the literature] together… to see if there’s enough evidence that the benefits individual people notice can be used to help people with mental illness.” According to their findings, yoga appears to have a positive effect on:
Schizophrenia (among patients using medication)
ADHD (among patients using medication)
Some of the studies suggest yoga can have a similar effect to antidepressants and psychotherapy, by influencing neurotransmitters and boosting serotonin. Yoga was also found to reduce levels of inflammation, oxidative stress, blood lipids and growth factors.
11. Visualization Techniques & Guided Imagery
Visualization techniques or guided imagery can serve as an important tool to combat both physical pain and depression by imagining being in “a better place.” “Research shows it can help with pain from cancer, osteoarthritis and childbirth by providing distraction and promoting a state of relaxation. In addition, a study from Portugal found that when people hospitalized for depressive disorders listened to a guided imagery CD once a day for 10 days, they were less depressed, anxious and stressed over time, compared to peers who didn’t use visualization.” Ideally, you’ll want to immerse yourself as fully as you possibly into your visualization, using all your senses: seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling. According to Dr. Schmidt: “Using all your senses changes levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin, epinephrine and endorphins, and with regular practice you’ll gain more of a sense of control, which is often lacking when you’re in pain or depressed.”
12. Repeat a Calming Mantra
The repeated incantation of a mantra — a soothing or uplifting word or phrase of your choice — in a rhythmic fashion can help you relax in a similar way as mindfulness training. The focused repetition, also called autogenic training, helps keep your mind from wandering and worrying, and engages your body’s relaxation response. “A study at the University of Manchester in the U.K. found that autogenic training helped female migraine sufferers decrease the frequency and intensity of their headaches. And research from the University of Melbourne in Australia suggests that autogenic training may provide ‘helpful longer-term effects’ on symptoms of depression.”
13. Neurostructural Integration Technique
The Neurostructural Integration Technique (NST) is an amazing innovative technique developed in Australia. Using a series of gentle moves on specific muscles or at precise points on your body creates an energy flow and vibrations between these points. This allows your body to communicate better with itself and balance the other tissues, muscles and organs. The method of action is likely through your autonomic nervous system (ANS), allowing your body to better carry out its many functions the way it was designed to. The main objective is to remove pain and dysfunctional physiological conditions by restoring the structural integrity of the body. In essence, NST provides the body with an opportunity to reintegrate on many levels, and thus return to and maintain normal homeostatic limits on a daily basis. NST is done with a light touch and can be done through clothing. There are pauses between sets of moves to allow your body to assimilate the energy and vibrations.