Thank you to author Cindy Perlin, LCSW, for this guest post. For more information on this topic see her excellent new book The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments.
When I was 25 years old I injured my back running. I was attending graduate school at the time. My back pain became more and more excruciating until I was forced to drop out of school. The doctors gave me plenty of pills—narcotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants. None of it helped.
Over the next 3 ½ years I continued to have agonizing back pain. I sank into utter despair. Then a friend suggested that I read a book by a man who had laughed his way to recovery after a diagnosis of a painful, progressively crippling disorder. The author wrote about the importance of the mind/body connection and mentioned biofeedback as a way to harness it. That book changed my life.
I sought out a psychologist who offered biofeedback. Within a day my pain levels decreased 50%.
Over time I continued to get better using mind/body and other natural therapies. It’s been 35 years since my first biofeedback session and I’ve continued to use what I learned then to heal any health challenges
Every thought you have causes changes throughout your body. When you have a fear or worry thought, your body immediately prepares you to fight or flight with increases in muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure, decreases in blood flow to extremities and suppression of your immune, digestive and healing systems.
Neutral, calming or happy thoughts have the opposite effect. As a result, negative thoughts cause more pain, including back pain. Positive thoughts reduce pain, easing your back toward becoming pain-free.
1. Relax. This is different than vegging out in front of the TV. Relaxation is an active state of deep rest where the mind is quiet and the body is physiologically calm.
Meditation, guided visualization, body scanning and slow, diaphragmatic breathing are some of the many techniques that achieve relaxation. Biofeedback uses sensitive electronic instruments to measure your physiology (muscle tension, heart rate, blood flow to extremities, brain activity, etc.). This feedback enables your body to learn to relax by providing information about how your efforts are working.
2. Stop worrying. As noted earlier, worry-thoughts trigger the fight or flight response.
Learn to be more aware of your thoughts. Step back to assess whether the thoughts are realistic assessments of danger. If so, plan how to respond. If not, replace fears with more hopeful thoughts of positive outcomes. Decreasing your worry-thoughts reduces pain. Consult Dr. Heitler's Presciptions Without Pills or find a psychotherapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy for help with these techniques.
3. Express your emotions. Emotions are energy. Suppressing them takes physical effort that can cause pain.
Numerous studies show the connection between repressed emotions and poor health. Suppressing emotion also keeps you stuck, unable to move past what you are avoiding. By contrast, writing in a journal or talking to someone about how you feel, and even just sitting quietly and “mindfully” to fully experience and acknowledge the feeling, all lead to feeling better both emotionally and physically.
4. Laugh. When you laugh your body produces endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.
It's understandable if you feel, when you have back or other pain, that your life contains nothing to laugh at. No problem. Watch a funny movie or TV show, read a funny book, talk to a funny person, or read jokes on the internet.
5. Process your trauma. Numerous studies have shown a connection between earlier experiences of psychological trauma and chronic pain and illness.
Traumatic events that produced strong fear, anger or other negative emotions--events such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, living with domestic violence or an alcoholic, or having been bullied as a child at school--can remain locked as negative energy in a body organ, gland, muscle or bone. Also, in response to traumatic experiences, the amygdala in your brain can become hypervigilant, always on the lookout and ready for danger, putting you in continual fight or flight mode.
Traditional talk therapy can be somewhat effective for healing trauma. Research has established that for PTSD of all types, newer energy processing techniques such as EMDR, Thought Field Therapy, Emotion Code and neurofeedback (brainwave biofeedback) offer faster and more total relief.
Harnessing your brain to heal your pain can transform your life.
I know. I’ve lived it.
For my life now, free of back pain, I thank my brain's ability to alleviate my body's suffering. Your brain can do the same.
Cindy Perlin, a licensed clinical social worker, certified biofeedback practitioner, and past president of the Northeast Regional Biofeedback Society, recently has authored The Truth About Chronic Pain Treatments: The Best and Worst Strategies for Becoming Pain Free.
Dr. Heitler's latest publication is PRESCRIPTIONS WITHOUT PILLS For Relief from Depression, Anger, Anxiety and More. Available by order from your local bookstore or from Amazon.