Your mind is the most powerful tool you have to influence your health. Every thought you have causes changes throughout your body. When you have a fear or worry thought, your body begins to move towards the “fight or flight” response, which results in increases in muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure, decreases in blood flow to extremities and suppression of your immune, digestive and healing systems. Neutral, calming or happy thoughts have the opposite effect. As a result, negative thoughts cause more pain and positive thoughts reduce pain.
Here are six ways to master the mind/body connection to eliminate pain and resolve other health issues:
- Relax. This is different than vegging out in front of the TV. Relaxation is a state of deep rest where the mind is quiet and the body is physiologically calm. Meditation, body scanning, repeating relaxing suggestions and slow, diaphragmatic breathing are techniques you can use to achieve relaxation. Biofeedback, which uses sensitive electronic instruments to measure your physiology (muscle tension, heart rate, blood flow to extremities, brain activity, etc.), can help you learn to relax by providing information about how well your efforts are working.
- Stop worrying. As noted earlier, worry thoughts trigger the fight or flight response. Learning to be more aware of your thoughts and to examine whether they are realistic assessments of danger, as well as learning how to replace fearful thoughts with more hopeful thoughts of positive outcomes, can help you decrease pain. A psychotherapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy can help you learn how to do this.
- Practice Healing Visualization. Images are a very powerful way to communicate with the part of your mind that controls healing. Visualize your area of pain as it is now (i.e. tense, unhealthy) and imagine it gradually shifting to a healthier state. You can also choose a color, sound, texture, shape and size that represents your pain and imagine it changing to a healthier color, sound, texture, shape and size. You can also imagine yourself moving comfortably through your life, doing the things you would like to be doing when you are completely well. These soothing images put your body in a healing state and focus your body’s attention and energy on healing the problem. Pre-recorded guided visualizations for healing pain and reducing stress are available as apps and also on CDs and as mp3 files at www.healthjourneys.com.
- Express your emotions. Emotions are energy in motion. When you attempt to suppress them so that you don’t feel them it takes physical effort that can cause pain. Numerous studies show the connection between repressed emotions and poor health. Suppressing emotion also keeps you stuck, unable to move past what you are avoiding. Talking to someone about how you feel, writing about your feelings or even just allowing yourself to sit quietly and experience your feelings can help you to feel better emotionally and physically.
- Laugh. When you laugh your body produces more endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Even if your life contains nothing to laugh at, you can watch a funny movie or TV show, read a funny book, talk to a funny person, or read jokes on the internet.
- Process your trauma. Numerous studies have shown a connection between psychological trauma and chronic pain and illness. Childhood trauma (including physical, sexual or emotional abuse, living with domestic violence or an alcoholic parent) is especially damaging. In response to traumatic experiences, your brain becomes hypervigilant, always on the lookout and ready for danger. This means your body is always in the fight or flight response. Traditional talk therapy can help but it is not as effective for healing trauma as newer techniques, including EMDR, energy psychology therapies such as Thought Field Therapy and neurofeedback (brainwave biofeedback). Find a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma and uses these techniques to help you move beyond your trauma.
Frequent side effects of a mind/body approach to pain
If you choose to use your brain to heal your pain, you will probably experience the following side effects: improved sleep, fewer infections, lower blood pressure, better digestion, less anxiety and enhanced feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
Try it. You have nothing to lose but your pain.