Eight things you can do right now to start feeling better.
Learning how to feel better requires knowing how to harness the abilities of your brain; your brain enables you to both feel pain and to not feel pain. Neuroscientists have discovered that the best way to change negative feelings is to have an experience that generates different feelings, which is also linked to the painful feelings. Below you will find eight ‘brain-smart’ strategies which will help you to start learning to control your pain and feel better permanently. It is assumed that you have access to appropriate medical help.
- Make peace with your feelings.
Making peace with your feelings means understanding and accepting them. Negative feelings such as anxiety, depression and anger are normal reactions to pain – part of your natural, evolutionary response to life events. They are designed to help you survive. Failure to understand such feelings can actually add to your pain. Anxiety means that you are worried about the future. Depression can mean many things, from grieving about lost capacities to realizing that your usual ways of coping are not working. Anger means that you feel frustrated. Accepting, rather than judging your feelings, enables you to turn them into something useful rather than becoming part of the problem.
2. Learn how to turn your negative feelings into something useful.
Once you understand the meaning of your feelings, the next step is to harness them productively. Think of your feelings as guides for action rather than end-points in themselves. Anxiety means that you need to feel like you have more control over what’s happening. This not always possible, but you can change your perspective. For example, instead of thinking too far ahead, try focusing on today and what you can control right now. Similarly, depression may mean that you need to give yourself permission to grieve if there have been losses. Try something different or get some advice if your usual ways of coping are not working.
3. Change your focus.
Find something enjoyable to do which takes you out of your pain mindset, even temporarily. Enjoyable activities such as listening to music, talking to a friend or even knitting can all stimulate temporary feelings of relief by taking your focus away from your pain. You must have some ways of stimulating alternative feelings to those associated with your pain – these may be things you enjoyed in your childhood, but you may also have to ‘think outside the box’. Make that activity part of your life and do it often. Learning to focus on pleasurable activities takes effort and willpower, but it is the beginning of learning to feel better.
4. Learn how to use experience to change your pain
Another more powerful strategy (since it involves linking a new sensory-emotional experience to an old one) is to;
1) focus on your pain in a non-judgmental way (step one)
2) breathe into it, noticing the tension as you do so,
3) and then as you exhale, notice the feeling of relaxation as you do so, and
imagine that you are exhaling a little of the pain.
4) Repeat this exercise, noticing the cycle of tension and relaxation as you
breathe in and out, and with each exhale imagining that you are breathing
out a little more of your pain.
5. Eliminate negative thinking
Try to think more critically about your patterns of thinking and learn how to step outside your usual ways of thinking. Worry, self-criticism and fearing the worse are common negative thinking patterns which tend to exacerbate pain. They are also very unproductive forms of thinking – most chronic worriers aren’t even conscious of what they are worrying about half the time! Sure there are things to be concerned about, but there are also grandchildren, sunsets, gardens and personal goals and achievements. Why not think more about the things that you can enjoy or have some control over?
6. Talk about it
Many people believe that pain is “your responsibility” and that you should not burden others with it. This is a crazy, dangerous, wrong-headed notion which just makes people feel isolated when they most need support. Human beings are actually ‘wired’ to need each other – that’s what emotions such as love and compassion are for. Sharing your feelings with someone who cares releases tension and lightens the burden of pain. Once you have unburdened yourself you do not need to keep repeating the message, a look or a brief statement about how you are feeling is sufficient, but at least you will know that you are not alone with your pain.
7. Get some rest!
Pain affects the quality of your sleep and your sleep routine. Learn to listen to your body and recognize when it needs rest. Sleep whenever and wherever you can rather than waiting for bedtime. Although this may affect your ability to fall asleep at the regular time, the reality is that this is probably not happening anyway. Rather than trying to force your body into a normal sleeping routine, accept that your sleeping routine isn’t going to be normal and if possible just sleep when you feel tired, regardless of the time. Although inconvenient, you will at least get more rest and this will improve your ability to cope.
8. Make sure you have safety
Safety is the most basic human need. When there is a threat to your safety this automatically becomes your primary focus in life – your survival depends upon it. Although we tend to think of safety threats in terms of muggers or terrorists, pain is also a threat to safety since it takes away your ability to function normally. This is why many pain sufferers feel agitated, restless and ‘jumpy.’ Attending to your safety means making sure you have access to adequate medical treatment, including a doctor you trust, a good support network and some ability to control the pain and its effects on your life.
Hopefully the steps described in this article will prove helpful in helping you understand your needs and how to achieve them.