Strategies for Dealing with Physical Pain

15 February, 2020
Science has proven that the way each person perceives physical pain is subjective. For this reason, training the mind is an effective path to increasing pain tolerance.
 

Pain is a common part of many health conditions. Physical pain causes suffering and can become a heavy burden. It’s important to know that, in addition to pain relievers, there are other strategies you can use to tolerate it. Eventually, these could even substitute medicine altogether.

Harvard Medical School has shown that physical pain is closely tied to your mental state. Studies have shown that the way in which you experience pain depends a lot on your personality, lifestyle, emotions, and past experiences.

Scientists have seen cases in which a person experiences physical pain for a time and then get better. However, they can still feel pain even though they’re “cured”. This is because the brain gets used to certain sensations and reproduces them automatically. It’s similar in many ways to the “phantom limb” effect.

A woman in pain from a headache.

The mental perception of physical pain

The mistake of treating the mind as if it were separate from the body isn’t uncommon. Human beings aren’t just biological. We have a brain that interprets and gives significance to everything it experiences. As a result, all physical pain involves the mind.

 

Each person has a blueprint in the mind regarding pain. When it comes up, you give it meaning and form expectations about it. You also respond to it in a specific way. This practice conditions the intensity of the pain and the threshold of tolerance.

A pain threshold is a concept that refers to your capacity to tolerate physical pain. This varies from person to person. For some, the painful feeling is intense even with minimal stimulation. Others can tolerate very intense stimulations. The individual differences vary depending on each person’s psychological makeup.

Strategies for tolerating pain

A series of strategies have been proven effective in dealing with physical pain. The first is related to relaxation practices. This helps the body and mind achieve a calmer state, in turn making physical pain more tolerable.

The main strategies are the following:

  • Practice deep breathing. This is the most fundamental strategy, and also the simplest; you simply breathe in and out. Experts recommend accompanying it with a positive message and exhaling with a phrase to help expel the physical pain.
  • Practice full attention. This consists of focusing on the pain and examining the way it manifests. Don’t try to interpret or reject it; simply observe it.
  • Basic meditation. You should focus your attention on the rhythm of your breathing and follow it with your mind. Think of a calm place and hold it in your mind. If a distraction appears, go back to that image.
 
  • Relax. When there’s pain that generates stress, perform a basic medication. The goal is to slow down your heartbeat and relax your muscles.
A woman resting with her eyes closed.

Other important exercises

To increase the degree of control over the feeling of physical pain, it’s also important to do other exercises. Unlike the aforementioned, these are related to external, rather than internal, factors. It’s always a good idea to develop some kind of relaxing and distracting hobby. Walking, caring for the planet, and painting, among others, can fit the bill perfectly.

Reading is also recommended since it helps increase your capacity for concentration. This is very useful for tolerating pain, and it helps reduce stress as well. Poetry is also a great companion in these cases.

It’s not good to be alone for too long. Besides, contact with others is a positive stimulation. You shouldn’t use these relationships just to talk about your physical problems, though. If you think it’s something you need to talk about constantly, the best alternative is psychotherapy. That way, you won’t overwhelm your loved one and you’ll get the professional help you need.

 

Martínez Sánchez, L. M., Martínez Domínguez, G. I., Gallego González, D., Vallejo Agudelo, E. O., Lopera Valle, J. S., Vargas Grisales, N., & Molina Valencia, J. (2014). Uso de terapias alternativas, desafío actual en el manejo del dolor. Revista de la Sociedad Española del Dolor, 21(6), 338-344.