When pain strikes, it can be hard to know what to do. It can be overwhelming and leave you feeling helpless. But there are things you can do to help alleviate the pain and get back on track. This blog post, will explore four things you can do when pain strikes.
For instance, the other day, I felt my left arm randomly twitching and began to experience a headache. As someone familiar with the mind-body connection, I know that physical pain can stem from an emotional trigger. Therefore, I took a mind-body approach to alleviate my symptoms.
Here are the four steps to follow when pain strikes:
Step 1 – Think Emotionally, Not Physically
When we experience pain, our first instinct is to think we must get rid of the symptoms as soon as possible. It can be tempting to reach for medication.
Numbing the sensation with medication usually works quickly and allows us to get back to life but ‘getting rid of the pain’ is not the same as ‘healing the pain’. By masking the pain with medication, we are not getting to the root of the issue and the symptoms will be back only bigger and louder the next time. Or symptoms such as anxiety or difficulty sleeping will show up instead.
But following the mind-body approach is radically different.
In my case this week when my arm started twitching, I had to first recognise that I had pain. I initially thought that I wanted to get rid of it. Then I needed to reframe this and get curious. The question shouldn’t be ‘How can I get rid of this pain’. The question should be ‘I wonder what’s going on in my life that could be contributing to this pain’?
Step 2 – Recognize Emotions and Un-met Needs
Pain can often be a signal that some unmet needs or emotions need to be addressed. Take some time to reflect on what might be causing your pain. Are you feeling overwhelmed with work? Are you struggling with a relationship? Are you feeling disconnected from your community? By recognizing these underlying emotions and needs, you can start to take steps to address them and alleviate the pain.
I do this using a mind map. I draw a stick man in the middle of a page to represent me and then coming from this write all the things that could be bothering me. I usually start with the big stuff. In this case, we’re having issues with a property we own that’s becoming costly for us and there’s a lot of uncertainty about which direction to take. Then I list all the smaller things that are going on that could be bothering me. In this case one of the things I listed here was that it’s half-term and I’m not in my usual routine because the kids are at home more. I then include a section on how I feel about the pain or symptom itself. In this case, I’m nervous that the headache will get worse and affect a meeting that I have coming up. In the past when I’ve had much worse symptoms I’ve noted down that I had anger with the pain and fear for my future. And then finally I include all the things that ‘shouldn’t’ be bothering me but that could still be on my mind. In this case, we had guests arriving to stay. I love my friends and I want them to stay but I am sure deep in my subconscious I’m annoyed that I have to make all the beds and tidy up!
Doing a mind map like this allows us to get everything out of our minds and onto paper creating some space between us and the issues. You may be surprised at some of the things that come up when you start brainstorming and you could find some compassion for yourself at how much you have going on. You can then logically go through and decide which of the points you have control over and what if anything you want to do about each point. I sometimes put smiley faces next to each point to lighten the mood.
Then throw the paper away. You don’t need it any more. The act of getting it out of your head is done and you may find that your physical pain lessens. But always remember with mind-body healing the goal is not to chase away the pain. The goal is simply to get curious. When it comes to pain, what we resist persists.
Step 3 – Move Your Body
When we’re in pain, it can be tempting to curl up in bed and wait for it to pass. But every time we do this we are sending a signal to our mind that there is something physically wrong with us which only strengthens the neural pathway. The best approach is to continue with your daily activities as you would have done without the symptoms.
This week we had friends staying with us and we had many plans arranged. I woke up with a headache and it would have been easy to cancel the plans for an easier option of staying home. But by continuing with the plans I was able to send a clear message to my brain that I’m not scared of the pain which helps to break the pain fear cycle.
I’ve also learnt that oftentimes headaches for me are linked to ‘not letting go and having enough fun’. Whilst we were out I found myself laughing with friends and I didn’t even think about the symptoms which over the day lessened.
As well as continuing with your usual plans for the day I would also encourage exercise despite the pain. Movement can help increase blood flow, reduce stiffness and can release endorphins helping you to de-stress. Go for a walk, do some light stretching, or engage in whatever physical activity you enjoy. For me it’s a 5km run with music, no sports watches timing me… just for fun.
Step 4 – Use Your Strengths
When we’re in pain, it can be easy to feel helpless and powerless. But it’s important to remember that we all have strengths that can help us overcome challenges. Take some time to think about your natural strengths. Are you a good listener? Are you creative? Are you good at problem-solving? Do you light up when you are with people?
When we use our strengths we feel stronger. And it can often put us in a state of flow when time flies.
And when we are in a state of flow it is difficult to also experience the pain symptoms as much.
One of my natural strengths is that I love being organized. I thrive when I have ‘to-do’ lists. In preparation for our guest’s arrival, I created a big task list and found myself slipping into crazy organisational mode and getting energy every time I ticked off a job. This is my strength and you need to find what lights you up.
By using your strengths, you can start to take control of the situation and find ways to alleviate the pain. And if you want to get out of your head and take attention away from your symptoms try and find ways to serve others using your natural strengths.
If you are not sure what your natural strengths are I would suggest taking Gallup Clifton Strengths Assessment. This is a tool I use with all clients to quickly help them to identify their areas of strength.
In conclusion, when pain strikes, it’s important to remember that there are things you can do to help alleviate it. By thinking emotionally, recognizing emotions and unmet needs, moving your body, and using your strengths, you can start to take control of the situation and find ways to feel better. So next time you’re in pain, be kind to yourself and give these strategies a try and see what works best for you.