Pain: It’s a complaint that runs through every work week for me as a wellness practitioner. As I meet with people face to face in my New York practice or talk on the phone with coaching clients all over the nation, I hear the same plea again and again: Please help me with this pain.
Once the cause of discomfort is identified and treatment of the body begins, I urge patients then to take a further step: Address the mental and emotional consequences—and causes—of pain. Pain can adversely affect all aspects of a person’s life, diverting attention, sapping energy, limiting mobility, and—perhaps most importantly—stealing good humor, optimism, and emotional balance. As depression and stress increase, so does the pain, creating a devastating downward cycle.
If the physical condition behind your pain makes it likely those deep aches will be a recurring theme, please take special care to manage the counterproductive or even destructive thoughts that often accompany the physical hurting. My 3Rs technique—Recognize, Reframe, Reclaim—is a way to uncover and correct the negative thinking that may actually be making pain more intense.
The 3Rs process meets you where you are and guides you toward creating a plan for managing your discomfort.
Recognizing your state takes two steps. First, acknowledge your physical reality. You feel bad because your body hurts. What’s the cause? arthritis? injury from an accident? too much hunching over a computer or desk? healing after surgery? fibromyalgia? I assure you, it won’t get worse just because you say what the problem seems to be. Instead, if you name your condition honestly, you can begin to address what is really going on with you.
Step two is to acknowledge those attitudes and feelings that crop up when you express your pain. Do these statements sound familiar?
- “I can’t face my friends or family feeling like this. I’ll cancel my plans.”
- “It hurts so much to do my favorite activity now. Exercise can only make it worse.”
- “I’ve tried it all, and nothing works.”
Seeing those thoughts in stark black and white can be troubling. Fortunately, the 3Rs process directs us to do something to change them!
It’s perfectly natural to have feelings of sadness, frustration, or even despair when you’re faced with pain, but be aware that emotion, too, can manifest itself physically. Negativity quietly fuels pain by ceding not just physical, but mental and emotional control to whatever causes that pain.
I’m here to tell you there is a bright side: It’s the YOU factor. No condition has complete control of a living person. Your attitude, drive, and willingness to be accountable play a big part in how you feel.
Reframing, then, is about identifying possibilities that exist even in the face of adversity. Please understand, this is not a mind trick. I’m not suggesting you fool yourself into believing that pain is just your imagination or that it doesn’t matter. Rather, the idea is to take the defenselessness out of your thinking. Rephrase those thoughts to acknowledge that you have a hand in how you feel—pain notwithstanding.
Let’s look at those same examples again, reframed to a mindset of accountability and control.
1. “I can’t face my friends or family feeling like this. I’ll cancel my plans.”
Distancing oneself from loved ones is no way to deal with difficulty. If anything, you need that trusted emotional-support team now more than ever. Let’s try this instead: “I deserve and want to enjoy the company of my loved ones, even if it means modifying our plans.”
2. “It hurts so much to do my favorite activity now. Exercise can only make it worse.”
You didn’t really think I would give you a pass on fitness, right? Try this new thought instead: “Spin and squash are out for now. It’s time to give aquacise or Pilates a try.” Whether it’s as simple as a stroll around your neighborhood, or a more complex program put together by a professional specifically to fit your needs, you can find an activity that will benefit you despite any current limitations.
3. “I’ve tried it all, and nothing works.”
“All” and “nothing” raise a red flag for me. Such absolutes are rarely true. Worse, this whole statement signals a sense of helplessness that begs the assistance of a professional. A more forward-looking thought might be “Those things didn’t work. I’ll find someone with new ideas I haven’t tried yet.” Many experts offer effective solutions that lie outside the standard treatments. Here’s one expert’s pain remedy to try for starters: Homemade Capsaicin Cream[link to recipe post below].
Of course, you know that “reclaim” means to take back what was once yours. What has pain stolen from your work, relationships, or any part of your life? Name it now—and declare it yours once again. By reframing your reality into a more positive light, you gain some tools and attitudes that will allow you to embrace and protect what’s precious to you. All that’s missing is your initiative. Do it now: Reach out and grasp, joyfully, the gifts and challenges in front of you. Take back life.
Most of us break through the blues once illness begins to abate, but I know finding and keeping your optimism can be hard if you’re faced with chronic or debilitating discomfort. No, I can’t promise you a complete solution to every pain—but please, don’t let pain control your will to be a vital, unique, active individual. You deserve to pursue and enjoy your life. It would be my honor to lend a hand in your quest. Call me at 212-686-0939. Together, let’s explore ways for you to gain a measure of physical relief as well as maintain your emotional and mental balance.