We need to be aware of something in order to change it.
This statement is one I commonly use with my clients who have chronic pain. I am invite them to pay attention to the very areas they are trying to numb themselves from, as well as the rest of their body and mind. I don’t want them to miss the subtle signs and clues that can help them to learn more about their bodies and to improve their condition. When pain becomes the predominant thing someone feels, it often prevents people from tuning in. Increasing awareness can apply to so many aspects of someone’s life when they have chronic pain. Things to look at can be:
How do I breathe? Are your breaths full and efficient or quick and shallow? Do you commonly hold your breath?
What do I feel in my body (besides pain)? It’s important to scan the body and tune into other tensions, tightness, and patterns. You can use this information as a baseline to see if you are improving or figure out how hard to push yourself with an activity as sometimes only looking at the pain itself is not an accurate indicator.
What activities and positions help with my pain? Do you spend enough time on those? For example, if you know that exercise helps your pain is that a part of your daily routine?
What activities and positions make my pain worse? Are you factoring that in? Like if you slouch and it worsens you pain, do you take that into account when you are sitting all day? Do you honor your limits or do you push yourself until you crash?
How does stress impact my pain? If you notice a correlation between chronic stress and your pain, have you done anything to address that?
How do my emotions affect my pain? Do you notice if negative emotions such as anger, fear, frustration, and anxiety negatively affect your pain? Dr. Sean Mackey, noted pain doctor and researcher on chronic pain at Stanford, states that a lot of the areas in the brain involved in negative emotions overlap with the areas that process pain.
The bottom line:
Awareness is the first step to change. This actually applies to everyone, not just people in chronic pain. With any goal we want to achieve we have to be aware of where we currently are and what we are doing/not doing to help us towards our goal.