How is it that a thought alone would be able to alleviate and cure pain? Well, first we should quantify pain. There are many different types of pain, both physical and emotional. The two broad categories pain can be broken into are 1) acute and 2) chronic. Acute pain means new pain. A pain that comes from stepping on a LEGO or being dumped by your girlfriend – that’s acute pain, physical and emotional respectively. Acute pain isn’t pain that has been lingering for a while – like depression or the low back pain that you think will go away, but never does. That pain would be considered chronic pain.
There is, however, a correlation between emotional pain and physical pain: thoughts can cure both. Thoughts regulate stress hormones in our bodies, such as cortisol. Cortisol is a natural steroid that we naturally produce. If we have increased amounts of steroids in our body, our immune system function decreases, and sensory nerve signals are sensitized. This means that the physical body becomes more sensitive, all because of the power of your thoughts.
Nerd Term = Psychosomatic Response
There is a nerd term to describe how thoughts can cause a physical reaction, it’s called a psychosomatic response.
Psycho = mind.
Somatic = body.
Science considers this one of the direct connections between the mind and the body. What we might fail to realize is that what we THINK can actually have a drastic effect on how we FEEL. Think about the last time that you were driving your car down the freeway (or just play this out in your mind). You are driving a nice car, playing your favorite music, laughing … and speeding. You feel so good, and so free. Then you look into your rearview mirror to see flashing lights. Immediately your stomach sinks, your muscles tense up. Your voice was shaky when you responded to the officer’s question, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
You had a psychosomatic response. The officer literally did NOTHING to you physically, yet you had a physical response.
Let’s flip the situation. What if you were the one who had called for the help of the police? How would this change how you felt? If it were me, I would feel relieved, grateful and even relaxed when I saw their flashing lights. The difference between each of these experiences is not the cop showing up behind you, but instead how you react to the cop showing up behind you.
Through thoughts we can control our reaction and perception of stress and pain. We can also determine how it will affect our lives physically, emotionally, professionally, socially and personally.
The Band-Aid Effect
It’s not unusual for my kids to go outside, play around for a while and then come in limping and screaming with a bit of blood on their knee and an incredibly tragic story to tell. They say that they need a band-aid because there is blood and pain. Enter the almighty band-aid. After meeting their demands of putting on a band-aid, their tears dry up, giggles come back and they bolt out the door to go play again.
The moment my kid decided that the band-aid would work, it begins to work. It begins to work on both the brain and body. My child’s brain is conditioned to believe that the band-aid will provide relief and comfort. This conditioning allows the same feeling of relief and comfort to return time and again when a band-aid is requested.
Conditioning is one thing, but there is actual science behind what happens when you had the band-aid-to-the-rescue belief. A process began in the nervous system that released chemicals to help you feel better and actually start the healing process. This process was instigated by the body, and perpetuated by the brain; and healing doesn’t require special chemicals or even band-aids from outside sources. It just requires a bit of patience, time, and a positive thought. Truth be told, the band-aid is pretty worthless. The thoughts and beliefs relating to the band-aid are priceless.
But what about us?
Where is our band-aid? How can we experience an almost immediate decrease in physical and emotional turmoil like children do with band-aids?
The answer: Our band-aid is our thoughts.
Thoughts can do many things for us. They can build us up or completely break us down. They can lead us to action, or they can bury us deep in solitude. Remember psychosomatic response? Thoughts can cause stress, and thus lead to physical changes and even pain.
Are You a Negative Nancy or Pissed-off Peter?
Have you ever met somebody who is always sick? Or met someone who is always experiencing traumatic and dramatic events in their life? For the most part, these are people you probably don’t want to be around. Not because you think you’ll get sick or their “bad luck” will rub off, but because these people are typically negative minded people. The more negative thoughts, the more stress is placed on our mind and body, the more stress you have the more your body reacts in pain or sickness. The amazing thing is this cascade can have a completely different outcome with one positive thought. Thoughts control our lives, and ultimately the “pain” we end up feeling as a result.
Pharmacology, Patience, and Placebo
Long ago, heavy pain medications like Vicodin were used only for severe cancer cases. Today, they are more of a mainstay for people with any kind of pain. This results in thousands of emergency room visits every year. I hate to say it, but many times that’s what people want. Something fast. Something quick. Something that doesn’t require much effort.
Research has shown for quite some time the effects of a placebo compared to actual chemical medications, for both mental and physical pain, are only slightly different. Yet many times we still turn to pharmacology because it appears easier, faster and goodness, who has time for anything else?
In a study done at the University of Turin, patients were given morphine injections for two consecutive days. On the third day they were given a saline solution in place of the morphine injections. The results will blow your mind. Patients that were given the saline solution reported higher pain tolerance than when they were given morphine.
We understand the power that thoughts carry with them, now what can we do now to decrease stress and pain that we feel? There are three simple actions that have helped countless people better manage their stress and pain levels:
- Mindfulness and Meditation, not medication – Meditation has shown to alter the pain pathways in the brain by decreasing the activity in the initial pain sensing area of the brain, and increasing the activity in the other areas of the brain. According to Dr. John D. Loeser, a neurologic surgeon and pain expert at the University of Washington, meditation gives patients a way to take hold of their life again. You will end up feeling more in control.
Favorite Resource for Learning and/or Improving Meditation: Andy Puddicombe wrote How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in 10 Minutes a Day: A Guided Meditation
- Change Your Daily Routine and Focus – One of the greatest causes of emotional pain is feeling like you’re not making a difference, like you’re not contributing or like you’re not going anywhere in life. Most times this can be attributed to what you focus on and what you do on a daily basis. Evaluating
Favorite Resources for Improving Daily Routine and Focus: The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson and The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor.
- Attitude of Gratitude – Something me and my wife started years ago was a gratitude journal. At the end of the day, we would write 3 things that we were grateful for that day. By doing this we cleared the day of any of the negative things that happened and focused on the great things that happened! By clearing the negative things, we didn’t carry the stress of that day into the next day.
It should be mentioned that many times there are physical things that need to be addressed by your natural health care provider that cannot be taken care of simply by thinking it will go away. I typically recommend having a quality chiropractor, acupuncturist and physical therapist.
Dr. Ogle is a pediatric and family chiropractor in Meridian, Idaho. He believes that each and every individual has gifts and abilities beyond their own comprehension. He believes that as people discover how to tap into their gifts and abilities, they will have a significant shift in the quality of their personal, family and professional lives.