The capacity to experience pain is a lifesaver. By focusing your attention on areas that may not be functioning properly, it helps ensure your safety and survival. Pain is the signal to your brain which in turn communicates with your hand to take it off a hot stove, thus saving you from more tissue damage.
But when your reaction to pain creates a feedback cycle that spirals out of control, the purpose of it is defeated. Pain, no matter what its origin, is experienced through your senses. So to make the experience less intense, it is important to work through the senses.
People experiencing pain often focus totally on it, ignoring other non-painful sensations that are also present. As the focus on the painful feeling intensifies, the fear of the pain increases over time.
When you are in fear of your pain then you cannot affect your pain level; that fear often creates an ever-tightening cycle in which the fear causes your body to clench, clenching increases the pain, which in turn convinces you that the pain is indeed something to be feared, etc.
Instead of resisting or fighting with the pain, a cooperative approach to it lessens stress, encourages better sleep, helps the immune system, and ultimately makes it easier for it to leave your body.
Although the suggestions below are discussed in a sequence, steps 3 through 6 can be implemented in any order, or simultaneously.
- Hydration. Adequate water intake is necessary to keep the body functioning properly. Since you are made up mostly of water, a body drought harms every bodily system. When you are in pain or discomfort, the first step is to drink a glass of water.
- Breathing. Pain and the resulting muscle tension causes the body to breathe more shallowly and thus sharply decreases the supply of oxygen to the bloodstream. Breathing is a completely natural and healthy act, nothing you do while simply breathing will harm you. Take at least ten deep breaths while doing nothing but observing how it feels to breathe slowly, deeply, and regularly.
Using the additional techniques below may assist in this process.
- Scent. Smell is of course closely related to breathing and is thought to be the most emotionally evocative of all the senses. As such, it has great potential for calming and soothing both body and mind. Simply becoming aware of the scents around you and how they are affecting you gives you many options for customizing pain diminishment. It can be very helpful to scent a small cloth and carry it with you in a sealed or Ziploc type bag. Or use fresh herbs, a scented body cream or perfume, or sachets of whatever smell is comforting to you. The idea is to soothe rather than overwhelm.
- Taste is dynamic for some. If it works this way for you, find a soothing taste that comforts you and focus on that instead.
- Touch. If you use a scented cloth, it should be made of a fabric that you find particularly pleasing to touch and hold. The idea is to have something that literally feels good within your easy reach at all times.
- Sound. Choose some sounds that are soothing to you and replay them in your head while you are breathing deeply. You can also experiment with combining sensory experiences. Music often expresses feelings that are hard to express in other ways. Listening to music can trigger pleasurable memories and feelings, from any stage of life, that derail the painful experience.
- Sight. One of the most powerful senses is your sight. Healing and calming happen when you change focus and look then visualize something you find beautiful.
Finally, it helps to understand how you relate to your pain. Some people want it all to be abolished. Others may want some of it to remain. As one cancer patient put it, “If I didn’t feel some pain, how would I know what that cancer is doing in there.” Some may see the pain as something to be conquered. Some may see it as something to be accepted. If you understand how you relate to it, you will more understand how to deal with it.