Pain, particularly pain that becomes chronic can have a strong impact on your life and perception of the world. When the pain experience is persistent, it becomes part of your identity. Many conditions where chronic pain is one of the main symptoms have no cure. These conditions are managed by drugs that relieve the symptoms but don’t address the cause. There are very few quick wins and the path to healing has many setbacks and wrong turns. Some doctors and other health care providers find dealing with chronic pain patients arduous and unrewarding.
Often the cause of chronic pain is overlooked and patients become familiar with phrases such as ‘it’s all in your head’. While this phrase isn’t incorrect, it does undermine the experience of the patient and underestimates the role the patient’s mind can play in their recovery.
Does anything not happen in your head?
Contained in the head is your brain and without the brain there is no experience. The signals absorbed by the nervous system cannot be processed without the brain. The electrical impulses that carry these signals don’t contain any meaning. They simply notify the brain that there is stimulation but the brain is required to make sense of this information.
All the information we receive needs to be processed by the brain and how it is processed depends on the incredibly unique way our minds are conditioned.
You may see the tree in your garden as a beautiful part of thriving nature, your neighbours may see it as blocking their light and filling their gutters with leaves.
As an ambulance passes by, are you glad they are going to help someone or is your first reaction about how the siren has pierced your serenity.
Is the homeless person a victim or a failure? Should they receive help or get a job?
The list goes on.
We are absorbing the same information as everyone else, through the same senses, but we are processing it through the lens of our conditioning – perceiving what is important to us.
If you have experienced trauma, injury or anxiety your conditioning will lean more towards the lens of fear when processing information. This is when behaviours like pain catastrophising, fear of movement, hypervigilance and disuse start to become your new normal. The nervous system is mainly concerned with your survival, not your happiness. As a result it focuses on the threats in your reality, to overcome this tendency you need to feel and see things differently.
Understanding is the first step
The phrase ‘it’s all your head’ is a testament to how powerful the brain and nervous system are but it is also a reminder that you need to own your healing. Your healing depends on your reality and no one knows this as well as you, it can’t be left up to anyone else.
That doesn’t mean you need to go it alone, you will need to leverage the skills of many people. However, a great adventure and profound healing awaits the person who decides to look inwards and can be motivated to explore why persistent pain is part of their reality.
Your pain experience is very real, as real as anything else you perceive but the context around the sensations can be changed. Creating a new context and no longer perceiving the same sensations as dangerous is how to alter your pain experience to cause less issues.
Understanding the physiology and psychology of pain is a huge first step to take. This alone can dissolve some of the pain pathways and give you an understanding of how your body is being influenced by your conditioned mind and nervous system.