Chronic pain is not a simple sensation. It is strongly influenced by the ways in which the brain processes the pain signals. In fact, chronic pain can provoke strong emotional reactions, such as fear, anxiety, or even terror, depending on what the individual believes about his or her pain signals.
If there is any good news about chronic pain, it is that, to a certain extent, the brain can learn how to manage the sensation of pain using a combination of deep focus, breathing, and imagery techniques.
First, learn how to relax:
- Try putting yourself in a relaxed, reclining position in a dark room. Either shut your eyes or focus on a single point.
- Slow down your breathing. Breathe deeply, using your chest to pull the breath into your stomach.
- After you feel yourself relaxing, begin using imagery techniques.
Once you are relaxed, use the following effective imagery techniques to help control your chronic pain.
This powerful technique involves focusing your attention on any specific non-painful part of the body (hand, foot, etc.) and altering sensation in that part of the body. For example, imagine your hand warming up. This will take the mind away from focusing on the source of your pain.
This technique, also very powerful, is imagining an injection of numbing anesthetic (like the novocaine a dentist uses) into your area of pain. Similarly, you may then wish to imagine a soothing and cooling ice pack being placed onto the area of pain.
Building on the mental anesthesia concept, this technique involves imagining an injection of a strong pain killer, such as morphine, into the painful area. Along the same lines, you can focus on imagining your brain producing massive amounts of endorphins, your body's natural pain-relieving hormones, and having them flood into to the painful parts of your body.
Use your mind to produce altered sensations—such as heat, cold, or anesthetic—in a non-painful hand, and place the hand on the painful area. Envision transferring this pleasant, altered sensation into the painful area.
Mentally move your pain from one area of your body to another where you think the pain will be easier for you to handle. If you can't take another minute of your leg pain, for example, mentally move the pain up from your leg and into your lower back. Or you can move your pain out of your body and into the air.
These techniques take practice to become effective for managing chronic pain. Work on pain coping strategies for about 30 minutes 3 times per week. With practice, you will find that your power over the pain will increase, and it will take less mental energy to achieve more pain relief. You may also consider asking a mental health professional for help.