If you were told that you could significantly decrease your pain without medication or surgery, you would probably jump on the opportunity, right? Well, studies suggest that you can actually use your mind to manage aches and pains.
Whether it be severe pain caused by a migraine, arthritis, dry socket or chronic illness, having to suffer through it is no picnic. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the unpleasant sensations and increase your pain tolerance with the power of your mind, without having to mask the problem with pharmaceutical pain killers.
Mastering specific mental exercises for short term or chronic pain can have a dramatically positive effect. “Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis can learn mind-body techniques to assist the body and mind in relaxing,” says Janice M. Singles, PhD., of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. “This generally reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body, allowing the immune system to be better able to fight off illness.”
Here are eight methods to try:
1. Just Breathe
According to a 2011 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, redirecting mental focus from the pain you are suffering to focus on breathing may reduce pain intensity by 40 percent and pain unpleasantness by 57 percent.
Studies conducted by University of Wisconsin researchers found that fantasizing about your favorite foods can decrease the pain associated with soaking your hand in ice-cold water. Apparently you don’t even have to physically eat the food in order to alleviate your pain. Simply thinking about the meals you love can help you better cope with migraines, menstrual cramps and joint pain.
Meditation for pain relief not only teaches your body to relax instead of focusing on the present pain, it also helps with anxiety and high blood pressure. And although meditation has been used for hundreds of years as a pain reliever, it is only recently becoming recognized as an alternative to prescription drugs. While you may not notice immediate reprieve from your pain, as you continue to practice meditation, you may find that you are able to control the pain and feel it diminish in intensity.
4. Repeating a Mantra
Using a mantra – typically a word, sound, phrase or prayer – has the ability to decrease unpleasant sensations. Director of Pain Services at the Benson Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Ellen Slawsby, PhD, recommends choosing a positive word or phrase rather than a sound to repeat. In as little as 30 seconds, you can transcend from an agonizing place to a serene state of mind.
5. Acupressure Points and Massage
Used for thousands of years in China, acupressure applies the same principles as acupuncture to promote relaxation and wellness and to treat disease. By applying pressure to areas that hurt, especially if you’re dealing with a tension headache, can be very beneficial.
6. Listen to Music
Listening to music has been known to do more than just boost your mood. According to a study published in the Journal of Pain, listening to music while receiving electric shocks cuts pain levels by 17 percent. The key to using music to reduce pain is active listening. So how does concentrating on music work to ease pain? It seems that many of the same brain pathways that process music also process pain in the body. By focusing on music, there are less resources leftover to process those aches.
7. Do a Little Writing
Doctors recommend writing for 15 minutes before going to sleep. This technique not only relieves pain, it also helps with immune function. If you’ve been stressing out or worrying too much lately, maybe it’s time you get those thoughts down on paper.
8. Laugh Out Loud
Laughter truly is the best medicine. Its effects on the body are shown to release nature’s own analgesic, endorphins. Actually, just smiling can lift your mood and make pain more bearable.