09/28/2016 02:03 EDT | Updated 09/28/2016 02:03 EDT

​4 Tips For Using Your Brain To Calm Pain

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Tired or Depressed Businesswoman Outside

About 100 million Americans -- one in three people -- suffer from ongoing pain that impacts their daily lives.

Chronic pain has fuelled a pain treatment crisis resulting in the overprescribing of risky opioids. The tragic deaths of celebrities such as Prince have brought the issue to public awareness in a way that statistics can't.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended prescribers drastically limit opioids for pain -- even for pain after surgery. This is a dire situation for patients who desperately need ways to relieve their short and long-term pain without dangerous medications.

The most frequently overlooked pathway to pain relief is the patient. There are powerful cognitive behavioural skills that the everyday patient can begin putting to immediate use for personal pain relief. Calming your nervous system is the key to reduction of pain, distress, and suffering.

Below are practical tips for using your brain to calm pain work over time to reduce pain naturally.

1. Quiet your "harm alarm."

Think of pain as your 'harm alarm'- a warning to escape danger. This warning registers in your nervous system and is distressing. Relaxation skills soothe your brain and body, making both less reactive to pain.

To quiet your harm alarm, sit down in a quiet place and practice diaphragmatic breathing.

How to do it:

  • Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into your lower belly for a few minutes. Simply be present with your breath as you allow your breath to slow and deepen.
  • Imagine that you are expanding each breath down into your lower belly as your breathe.
  • Allow any thoughts to float away as you guide your awareness back to your breath.

2. Understand Your Pain: It's more than it seems.

Since you feel pain in your body you tend to assume it's just a physical sensation. Not true. Studies show that pain is a negative sensory and emotional experience. All pain is processed in your nervous system, which includes your brain and spinal cord. Your emotions, stress levels, expectations, beliefs, choices and thoughts--your whole psychology--affects your pain. This is why negative thoughts and emotions worsen pain.

3. Harness the Hidden Power of Your thoughts.

Brain scan studies show that when your attention is focused on pain, the pain grows in your brain--it actually gets worse. Negative thoughts make your "harm alarm" ring louder. Calming thoughts soothe your "harm alarm" and calm your nervous system, lessen distress and reduce pain.

It is helpful to make a list of your negative thoughts and next to each one, write a competing, positive thought.

For example:

  • Negative thought: "My back is killing me and it's getting worse."
  • Positive reframe: "I'm going to do what I can, right now, to make the pain as low as possible.

4. Take your mind-body medicine daily.

Using the mind-body skills described in steps one to three will help you reach your goal.

Remember, many of the medicines prescribed by your doctor don't take effect with the first pill. Most medicines are taken daily and build up in your body over time. Mind-body medicine is the same--it works over time. The feeling of calm will also happen over time, increasing the more frequently you practice your skills. Become empowered to increase your comfort and ability to do the things you love.

My book The Opioid-Free Pain Relief Kit: 10 Simple Steps to Ease Your Pain includes an audio CD that can guide you through these techniques and more to help retrain brain and body away from pain.

This blog was first published on InnerSelf.

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