Pain killer. Pain relief. Pain in the arse. This is our dialogue around pain. Does it have to be this way?
You have 100% chance of contracting pain in your lifetime. The question is what’s your m.o. when it happens.
How long has it been since you’ve felt pain? Last month? Last night? Right now?
Was it achy, sharp, dull, boring, throbbing, hot, constricting?
What did you do about it? Ice it, heat it, numb it, inject it, drug it, get it tested, treated, or cut out?
How do you handle pain? Do you wince, cry, yell, stiffen up, push through it, work it out?
Pain is a messenger. Biologically, it’s a process in which nerve endings are firing messages to your brain saying HELLO!! HI! Hi! ME! ME! Here! NOW! Squirrel! In my brain! And often, the message includes a big serving of common sense. What message is your pain sending you?
My head pain says drink water. My neck pain says support me and protect me. My fused hip bone says don’t try to pick up an elephant.
Sometimes pain comes from an external circumstance like an injury, and sometimes we create our own internal pain. For example, what happens in your body when your mom or dad calls? What happens when your boss asks you to take on another project? Ever notice how much more in pain you can feel the longer you spend time reading WebMD? Sometimes our stress response is emotional congestion – a mix of worry, fear, anger, frustration – and it turns into physical pain.
My stress pain says slow down, listen. Explore me. Move with me. Breathe deeply. Be gentle with me. Forgive. Love.
Pain is a gift in many ways:
- Pain breeds compassion. Once you’ve experienced pain, you become a little wiser and can empathize with others.
- Pain breeds patience. When pain persists, you have to find ways to go on functioning during work or day-to-day tasks. It’s up to you how quickly you run out of patience!
- Pain can keep you present. It forces you to get through one second at a time.
- Pain can protect you. Your body usually tries its best to protect your most essential life-giving functions, like keeping your heart pumping. So pain may show up in an extremity first, since we could conceivably continue living without our outermost parts. For example, pain or numbness in your feet may be the first symptom to alert you that your kidneys are in need of major attention. Usually subtle symptoms will show up first before an organ system will go into full failure.
- Pain is a mechanism for us to ask for help. Asking for help is one of the most humbling, vulnerable, difficult things to do. And it is one of the deepest ways we can connect to another person.
- Pain can teach us persistence. Sometimes our intuition is telling us a certain pain is out of the ordinary and needs extra attention, and we need to persist in asking for help from all kinds of practitioners until we feel like we’ve found a way to address it fully.
- Pain is a life teacher – a guide – holding the keys to a deeply important, yet often very simple lesson (like ‘take it easy’ or ‘fuel tank empty, please refuel’ or ‘return to love’).
Here are some ways to extract the gift or lesson of your pain:
- Journal with it: Pull out some paper and pencil. Ask yourself the question “what do you have to tell me, pain?” Then simply write whatever comes to mind in a stream-of-conscious way. What comes out might be words, sentences, phrases, or images. These might be coming from your imagination or your intuition; it doesn’t matter as long as you’re doing a brain dump. Write ‘to’ your pain, ‘from’ your pain, about your pain, expressing all the emotions that it makes you feel. Keep writing until you feel like you’ve exhausted your words about it.
- Move: Often, pain makes us think we should stay still. Our bodies were made to move, though. In this modern society, lack of movement is more often the cause of pain. For example, depression that keeps you on the couch, leading to a stiff back… sitting all day at work collapses our posture, leading to tight hips, or not exercising much and then ‘giving it your all’ during a run, leading to a tweaked knee. Gently stretching or even shaking out your limbs for several minutes can get blood flowing and break up stiffness and stagnation.
- Pray or meditate: Taking time to be silent and feel the pain and ‘go into the pain’, so to speak, can soften its intensity. There are some pain-specific guided meditations you can listen to on your phone to help. One resource is the Insight Timer meditation app.
- Talk with someone: Find a health practitioner who will help you feel ‘heard’ about your situation. Ask them if there are any natural pain support options or lifestyle adjustments like food or movement or sleep tips that might help. Or ask someone close to you if they can give you 10 minutes of listening time so you can verbally process what’s going on with you; specify whether or not you’re ready for advice in return.
And, as always, we’re here to help, since acupuncture and yoga do wonders for pain. We welcome all questions at firstname.lastname@example.org!