Doctors measure pain on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is no pain and 10 is the worst pain imaginable. That subjective measurement influences the amount of pain killer prescribed. When you think about it, it’s kind of shocking. MRI’s, CAT scans, blood work can be so precise. But with pain, it’s up to you. Is your 7 the same as the doctor’s perception of a 7? And should your 7 really be a 4?
Another weird thing about pain is that it can come and go. When it acts up, it can take over your life and feel like screaming fire engines. While at other times, the pain is quiet as a mouse. Pain can be moody and demanding.
The good news for anyone suffering with pain is that there are many creative ways to manipulate and reduce pain. Hypnosis and imagery can work as pain relievers and sometimes even pain eliminators. They help decrease pain perception as well as help alleviate stress and other symptoms of pain. Our minds have a powerful impact on our bodily sensations and on our brains, as recent neuroscience research has confirmed.
Mindfulness meditation is proving to be a wonderful tool for pain sufferers as well. In fact, a study (that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded) showed that mindfulness meditation can relieve chronic pain even more effectively than standard treatments.
Physical pain doesn’t necessarily only have physical causes. It can have physical, psychological and psycho-social components. Negative emotions, catastrophic thoughts and unhealthy coping behaviors actually amplify the sensations of pain.
It is also worth mentioning there is a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation and suffering contains all the feelings and interpretations we have about that sensation. This is useful because, while we may at times be unable to consciously control the sensation of pain, we do have the option of changing our interpretation of it, which can diminish the feelings of suffering.
A person can be trained to focus away from their pain using selective focus. For example, an athlete can injure him or herself during a game and not feel the pain because the brain has shut off the awareness of that part of the body. The athlete was focused on winning the game and blocked the pain sensation. We can tap into this same power of selected focus and quite literally take our minds off the pain. Hypnosis can also help activate the pain control centers in the body to increase and release endorphins, our body’s natural analgesics.
Hypnosis works to calm the nervous system allowing for pain relief and the body’s own self-healing mechanisms to work better. When you’re in pain, the nervous system jumps into a “fight-or-flight” state which creates tension in the body that can both perpetuate the cycle of pain, and stand in the way of healing. Calming the nervous system is a powerful healing tool.
Self-hypnosis isn’t difficult to learn. It feels quite relaxing and can be a useful tool for at home pain relief. The best part is there are no side effects like there are with pain medications or even Advil or Tylenol.
Our imagination is so powerful. It can create vivid imagery to activate our senses. Whether generating a cooling or numbing sensation, creating a healing garden or revivifying a happy memory, the images can be brought to life using sight, sound and scent. Suffering and pain can be alleviated simply by closing our eyes and entering the amazing world of our imagination. Imagery, hypnosis, mindfulness meditation and aromatherapy should be part of every pain protocol.