Resistance causes Stress.
Sometimes that’s a good thing . . .
Like when you do a sit-up. This resistance against gravity causes your abdominal muscles to become stronger, supporting your spine and improving your posture.
But sometimes, when resistance causes stress it’s not such a good thing . . .
When you were young, did you ever play with a Chinese Finger Trap?
I first saw one of these when my sweet, German Grandpa Gross gave me one to play with.
Insert fingers. To remove, simply pull your fingers out . . . But wait, pulling makes it get tighter.
So, it’s similar with pain.
As you are experiencing pain, if you notice that your breathing is shallow and your muscles are tense, you are likely resisting it. When the body senses physical pain, it sends a message to your brain. Then your conscious mind will create thoughts about what that means. Certain types of thinking will heighten your sensation of physical pain.
How Do You Resist Pain?
Perhaps you’ve noticed yourself saying things like, “what’s wrong, why won’t the pain go away, I’m so tired of hurting all the time, this stinks, why me, I’ve got mouths to feed and bills to pay.” And this one, “When, if ever, am I going to get my life back?”
Ever Worry About Pain Ruining Your Future?
It’s difficult to NOT go to that place in your mind where you feel anxious about your future. Many of my patients who are dealing with chronic pain share a common fear, “What am I going to do if this pain doesn’t get better, or gets worse?” But worrisome thoughts such as that, only increase stress, which in turn increases your pain.
When you can relax, and let it just be, Pain loosens it’s grip on you.
A Vicious Cycle of Pain and Stress and Anxiety . . . and more PAIN
Chicken or Egg? Pain, especially chronic pain, causes you to feel stressed-out. You may even be experiencing anxiety, wondering and worrying if something serious has taken over your body. If you’ll ever get better. It’s not at all uncommon for people to worry about losing their mobility and freedom as they age. Anxiety and stress make your perception of pain worse.
Most Pain Ebbs and Flows
Something to consider is that rarely is pain at “10 out of 10” all day long. So pay attention to what’s going on when your pain is more severe. You may indeed have noticed that when you are experiencing psychological stress, there’s a correlation to the intensity of your pain.
Mollie came to see me with severe pain in both hands. She was referred by another patient of mine, Nicole, who is a physical therapist down the street. Nicole thought that Mollie could benefit from acupuncture and functional medicine strategies as well. Mollie’s pain was being caused by both carpal tunnel syndrome and diabetic neuropathy.
Right away, Mollie began to feel better. But what I wanted for her, was even more improvement. My typical persona in the clinic is nurturing. My feminine energy puts people at ease. But on rare occasions, a smidge of masculine energy, in the form of “doctor knows best” shows up. “Let me explain how the practice of allowing pain and not resisting it, can help you”, I inform her.
I just want to help ease her pain . . .
But I start in on a rant about the 3 to 4 cans of Pepsi she drinks every day. “This is not helping your diabetic neuropathy.” She already KNOWS this . . . It’s a strategy she uses to create a break in her day. Something to, at least temporarily, escape from her stress, anxiety and chronic pain.
Next Came Her Tears
Mollie is listening, but all of a sudden I notice tears running down the sides of her face. I knew about her job stress. I knew she couldn’t quit because she was the sole income for her and her husband. I knew her husband was on disability.
What if I roll over in bed and he’s not breathing?
Mollie tells me that her husband’s congestive heart failure, COPD and multiple other complicating health conditions have her terribly worried. When she goes to sleep at night, she fears that she will wake up, roll over and see that he’s no longer breathing. She worries about him while she’s at work, which causes her to be in a constant state of low-level anxiety all day long. Of course she suffers from chronic pain. Immediately I felt a tightening in my chest, and wished I could take back what I had just said. The only thing I knew to do, was to open my heart, wipe the tears from her face, and ask for forgiveness.
The connection between a doctor who cares, and a patient who is open to receiving nurturing and healing, is a powerful thing. Even if the doctor . . . is obtuse on occasion.
What Can You Do, Right Now, to Ease Your Chronic Pain?
Here are three ways I suggest to my patients for the practice of allowing. Many of them have found one or more of these techniques to be very helpful. Each one is similar to pushing your fingers together when you want to remove the Chinese Finger Trap.
1. Use Your Breath
Inhale for 4 seconds. Hold for 7 seconds. Exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat as many times as you need to. You can do this anywhere. It’s very helpful during an episode of intense pain, but it’s also helpful anytime you notice your stress level rising.
2. Grab Your Journal
Write a detailed description of your pain. Describe its location, perhaps you feel pain in several areas of your body. What about the quality? Is it dull, sharp, or tight? And the intensity. Does it come in waves or is it constant? What else are you experiencing in your body? Do you feel any nausea? Does your heart race? Is there a color you image when you feel this pain? One of my patients found “drawing” how she imagined her pain to be very helpful. She said that when she did this, she immediately noticed her entire body relax and the pain seemed to loosen its grip on her.
3. Have a Chat with Your Pain
Welcome it. The fact is, that, in this very moment, your pain is a part of you. Whether is is a chronic, deep ache, sharp stab, or excruciating spasm, it is your current experience. You might imagine “pain” knocking at your front door. Why not invite her in for a cup of tea, because if you keep ignoring her, she’s likely to knock louder. Or keep coming back until you let her in. Spend time getting to know her better. Seriously, pour yourself a cup of tea and (out loud) engage in a conversation. She may have some valuable insight to share with you.
Please note that I am not suggesting that you don’t have real pain. I know this, because I see patients every day who have arthritis, tendonitis, and severe muscle tension. However, what’s true is that every single one of those patients, yes 100%, have some degree of stress. So when you allow your pain to just “be”, you decrease the stress response.
Go Beyond Allowing
Allowing doesn’t mean ignoring or giving up, or hoping things will improve on their own.
In addition to the practice of allowing, you need to continue to take action, move forward. I want you to be proactive, to keep seeking out ways to ease your chronic pain. And just because you may have been in pain for a long time, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a natural solution. Or that you have to resign yourself to “learning to live with it”. Consider the following. I’ve included examples that are my personal favorites. If you’ve tried any of these approaches before with limited success, remain open to trying again.
- Explore gentle forms of exercise. Tai Chi, swimming and rebounding.
- Eat more fresh, whole foods. Especially those rich in antioxidants such as blueberries, blackberries, leafy greens and red kidney beans (if tolerated)
- Add more healthy fats. Coconut milk (full fat), avocado, walnuts, Brazil nuts (excellent source of Selenium–which supports thyroid function) and olives.
- Avoid sugar, in all forms. I rarely consume fruit because of the fructose. But if you do want to include fruit, limit to 1 small serving per day. Berries are great (see above)
- Take anti-inflammatory supplements and herbs. Omega-3’s and curcumin.
- Make an appointment with a practitioner who utilizes natural healing disciplines such as acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy, Reiki or massage.
Yup, Keep Trying. Mollie hasn’t given up. So neither should you.
Mollie has cut back to one Coca-Cola per day. She comes in weekly. The acupuncture treatment activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s the exact opposite of the “fight or flight” stress response caused by activation of the sympathetic nervous system. She drops into a deep state of relaxation. It’s her weekly respite. Her Pain-Free Zone. I’ve been listening and not lecturing. We hug, and both soak up our daily dose of (pain-relieving) endorphins. And then she jumps back into the challenges of her current life, just as it is. Until next week.
Forgiveness is a powerfully healing (and also pain-reducing) phenomenon.
After lamenting about being obtuse with Mollie, I forgave myself. Mollie didn’t need to forgive me, because she never made me wrong in the first place. The women I’m blessed to work with are pretty amazing.
Reach out to me. Perhaps I can help you ease or better yet, resolve your chronic pain.