Keeping negative traits in check is important, but it’s also essential to emphasize the parts of yourself that buffer against pain, encourage relaxation and discourage tension. Cultivate these three traits if you want to break the pain cycle.
Trait #1: Acceptance
Accepting that you have pain is crucial to managing it, explains Emory University School of Medicine pain psychologist James Weisberg, Ph.D. Anything that gets in the way of accepting this reality may cause you to push yourself too hard. It can also cause you to ignore treatment that could make you feel better.
Similarly, if you resist the discomfort or feel anxious about it, you’re likely to trigger the release of stress hormones and add more tension to already stressed muscles. Allow yourself time to grieve for how a condition or injury has jeopardized or changed the body you once knew, but then focus on getting along, somehow, with this unwanted visitor.
Trait #2: Awareness
Becoming aware of your physical, mental and emotional states and the interplay between the three (how you hurt more when you’re tired, for instance, or how fatigue leads to a short temper) can be the first step toward breaking old patterns.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), says Weisberg, is perhaps the most effective way to increase awareness of muscle tension and learn how to relax those muscles. PMR involves tensing up targeted muscle groups, then relaxing them.
You may also want to try biofeedback. This type of therapy uses a system of sensors to monitor:
- heart rate
- muscle tension
- skin temperature
- other body functions
It also teaches you how your body reacts to stress so you can counter that response.
Trait #3: Action
People who have what psychologists call high self-efficacy believe their behavior can change a situation, and tend to actually do something to make a situation better.
To build an action-oriented mindset, pain expert Christina Lasich, M.D., recommends focusing on the aspects of pain you can control, such as:
- eating and sleeping habits that boost energy
- meditation practices for relaxing
- adhering to your treatment plan
- making time for activities you enjoy
Weisberg suggests creating small, obtainable goals, such as walking for two minutes every day, that set you up to succeed and lay the groundwork for bigger things you’d like to achieve.
Written by: Frances Lefkowitz, author of To Have Not (MacAdam/Cage, 2010), edited 2017
Originally published in Pain Solutions Magazine, Spring 2010