How to Manage Pain through Awareness by SuZanna MantisMay 3, 2020
Pain is a warning system in the body. There are two types of pain: acute pain and chronic pain. We need acute pain to survive. If we step on a nail or burn our skin, we need to know that something is wrong so we can seek proper medical attention. When this happens, a signal is sent up the spine through the nervous system and into the brain where it is then evaluated by different parts of the brain. These different parts of the brain include the motor cortex (what you are doing in that moment) and the sensory cortex (what part of the body the signal is coming from). “Chronic pain” is the result of our brain interpreting signals through our nervous system commonly long after the actual tissue damage has healed. Triggers of these signals can include one or all of the following: functional systems (bladder, bowel, or uterus/prostate), structural systems (muscles and ligaments in spasm, nerves firing, tingling, burning, itching of surface tissues), all of which add up in our memories, emotions, and thoughts. When the trigger is a memory, emotion, or thought (conscious or unconscious), it lights up the neuro-matrix connected to our sensory cortex. This phenomenon is similar to “phantom limb syndrome” where the individual experiences pain in a part of the body that is no longer there. Focused training redirecting the mind can help our brains avoid these particular triggers and signals as much as possible. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and diaphragmatic breathing techniques are proven tools to help guide us through this process. Our Body’s “Fight or Flight” Response. Fear triggers our brain to produce chemicals that make it more difficult for us to relax. In fact, mere emotions and thoughts (both conscious and unconscious) can trigger this chemical reaction placing us in the “fight or flight” response. When the body goes into this mode, it is an evolutionary protective response, as if there was a dangerous lion in the room. This “fight or flight” response causes muscle spasm (to give you strength to fight or run away), increased heart rate, dilated pupils, shallow breathing, and other autonomic nervous system responses, such as dry mouth, slower immune response, and inhibited digestion. The brain then seeks more feedback from the body to know more about what’s happening, increasing the sensitivity in the nervous system. Our brain “turns the volume up” on our nervous system. Regretfully, this means that our physical sensations increase and consequently we feel more pain. In other words, when it comes to pain, the more we fear it, the more we feel it. Emotions & Pain; our emotions affect how we feel and interpret physical sensations. Our beliefs, emotions, and thoughts all affect how we feel pain. Research is establishing that depression, anxiety, and guilt can all make it more difficult for us to cope with pain. Fear and worry can especially increase the amount of pain we feel. When we are afraid, our muscles tense, the heart begins to race, and we may begin to tell ourselves things like, “I can’t relax, this really hurts, I can’t handle this.” Then, the next thing you know, we can’t relax and every sensation actually does become more painful. A positive, less fearful emotional state, like being confident and relaxed, can help coping with pain easier. Some suggestions would be finding a meditation teacher or gentle yoga/strecthing class, now on zoom at Z’s Body & Soul. Being aware of what is happening is the first step in making any changes. SuZanna Mantis, Life Coach, Yoga Teacher and Reflexologist, owner of Z’s Body & Soul
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