Chronic pain can leave you feeling alone, depleted, hopeless, depressed, or angry.
For many people, pain is a part of daily life. It could be back pain, joint pain, stomach pain, intestinal pain, tinnitus, headache, or pain in any part of the body. What makes it chronic is that it doesn’t go away. Many people have been living with pain for years.
The first thing to do with pain is to work with doctors and health practitioners to alleviate the physical pain if possible. Chiropractic is very helpful with back pain and headaches. And there are many well-trained doctors and health practitioners offering modalities to help with chronic pain. Doing some research is often well worth the effort.
But there is also a lot of psychology that goes along with pain. The mind can make pain worse. It can put you through the gamut of emotions, which only intensifies the pain. So in addition to getting good medical attention, addressing the mind is a valuable part of managing pain.
Meditation can be a big help. I have been using Transcendental Meditation since I was young, and find it to be a very effective way of calming the mind, opening the heart and letting go of stress.
Self-inquiry inquiry is the other tool that I use to free my mind and open my heart.
Specifically, I use The Work of Byron Katie (4 Questions and Turnarounds), a simple way to identify the thoughts that are causing me stress and to question them and turn them around. This powerful practice of self-inquiry has unraveled countless stories and beliefs that were causing me stress.
All you have to do is listen to what your mind is saying about the chronic pain. The stressful thoughts are sitting there, ready to be written down and questioned using the four questions and turnarounds of The Work. So the first thing I do is sit down with a piece of paper, close my eyes, and start listening. Whenever I hear a stressful thought, I write it down.
You can question anything about the pain: from the statements of fact to the interpretations of those facts. Here is an example from when I used to have chronic back pain.
Fact: My back hurts.
Interpretations: It will never go away. It’s constant. It’s only going to get worse. I no longer can enjoy life. I have to be very careful. It’s not fair. I can’t handle it. It is unbearable. It zaps all of my energy. I want it to go away. I don’t ever want it to come back. I’m getting old. I wish I was young again.
As you can see, there are two sources of pain here: the physical body, and the mind’s interpretations. In my experience, the interpretations are even more debilitating than the physical pain. And now I have both!
In addition to consulting practitioners to help with the physical body, I then question the thoughts I wrote down about the pain. I sometimes question the actual fact, “My back hurts.” And more often, I question all of my interpretations (my story) about the chronic pain. This is what is causing my emotional pain.
To help identify these interpretations, I often use the prompt, “And it means that…,” For example, “My back hurts, and it means that 1) It’s only going to get worse, 2) I can no longer enjoy life, 3) my life is over.” Then I question each thought I wrote down.