(This is a strategy to challenge dysfunctional thinking and hopefully develop a more open relationship with your pain. Learning ways to relax your body with deep breathing or other skills is only one part of the overall strategy. Another powerful tool is to fine tune your mind with thought experiments and new perspectives. So please, with an open mind walk through this exercise and see if you can imagine a different relationship with your pain…)
If you can accept that you may be stuck with pain for the rest of your life, it is important to make room for pain in your life.
Imagine chronic pain is like an annoying roommate who has moved in with us to stay. But you have a choice to either fight with your pain day in and day out or find a way to make friends with something that does not seem friendly at all.
By making friends with pain we can reduce the number and intensity of pain thoughts. For example, finding a new perspective in imagining your pain to be an irritating but not threatening force in your life. Try imagining that pain is an alarm system that has a hair trigger and over reacts by sending the police, ambulances, and fire department to your home over and over and over. Eventually, everyone realizes that the alarm is in error and can choose to react in different ways.
When you start developing a relationship with your pain that is not hostile or based on fear, many people are also able to reduce their emotional reactivity to pain through various means. Sometimes what makes chronic pain so unbearable is our thoughts and emotional reactions to the pain. By making friends with your pain it is possible to change some of the most self-defeating ways of thinking that can add extra misery to an already challenging task of living well with chronic pain.
When you befriend your pain, the goal is to get closer to a state where pain is only a sensation – rather than a sensation and an emotion and a group of thoughts. Remind yourself that pain is an unpleasant signal from your body and not an enemy to defeat in emotional combat.
I’m sure some of you are thinking “This does not sound like a way to relax, but more of a challenge to think differently.” I know for some people this exercise may be presumptuous or aggravating, but I know this concept can be a very helpful tool in living well with chronic pain. I would hope you take the challenge because befriending your pain or learning ways to tolerate it like an annoying roommate can really change the way you interpret your daily life. I will continue to provide new relation strategies in every new Louisiana Pain Quarterly Magazine because the best way to manage stress and chronic pain is to develop a tool box full of different strategies that you can deploy when needed. Nearly all of the future strategies build on deep breathing, so don’t forget to practice!