Learning how to feel better requires knowing how to harness the abilities of your brain; your brain enables you to both feel pain and to not feel pain. Neuroscientists have discovered that the best way to change negative feelings is to have an experience that generates different feelings, which is also linked to the painful feelings.
Pain is, for the most part, unavoidable when you stub your toe, break your arm, or cut your finger open. It’s instantaneous and, in some cases, long-lasting, but it only feels as bad as you want it to. Yes, that’s right—that pain is all in your head.
Ways to reduce pain:
1. Make peace with your feelings.
Making peace with your feelings means understanding and accepting them. Negative feelings such as anxiety, depression and anger are normal reactions to pain – part of your natural, evolutionary response to life events. They are designed to help you survive. Failure to understand such feelings can actually add to your pain.
Anxiety means that you are worried about the future. Depression can mean many things, from grieving about lost capacities to realizing that your usual ways of coping are not working. Anger means that you feel frustrated. Accepting, rather than judging your feelings, enables you to turn them into something useful rather than becoming part of the problem.
2. Learn how to turn your negative feelings into something useful.
Once you understand the meaning of your feelings, the next step is to harness them productively. Think of your feelings as guides for action rather than end-points in themselves. Anxiety means that you need to feel like you have more control over what’s happening. This not always possible, but you can change your perspective. For example, instead of thinking too far ahead, try focusing on today and what you can control right now. Similarly, depression may mean that you need to give yourself permission to grieve if there have been losses. Try something different or get some advice if your usual ways of coping are not working.
3. Change your focus.
Find something enjoyable to do which takes you out of your pain mindset, even temporarily. Enjoyable activities such as listening to music, talking to a friend or even knitting can all stimulate temporary feelings of relief by taking your focus away from your pain. You must have some ways of stimulating alternative feelings to those associated with your pain – these may be things you enjoyed in your childhood, but you may also have to ‘think outside the box’. Make that activity part of your life and do it often. Learning to focus on pleasurable activities takes effort and willpower, but it is the beginning of learning to feel better.
4. Put Your Pain in Perspective
Pain can knock you off your game, but not if you train yourself to frame it in a positive light. For example, if you experience pain after an injury, remind yourself that your body is working to repair the damage.
“Don’t get too emotionally involved with the pain or get upset when you feel it,” long distance runner and performance psychologist Jim Taylor told Runner’s World. “Detach yourself and simply use it as information.”
5. Cough Through Quick Pain
German researchers have discovered that coughing right as a needle enters your skin can help take the sting out of it.Researcher Taras Usichenko studied the pain responses of 20 men when they were pricked with a needle and concluded that a simple cough was an easy and free way to take the pain out of routine shots.
6. Breathe Through It All
Mindful meditation—specifically, focusing on your breathing—has been used to calm the mind for centuries. The simple act of clearing your mind has been shown to have anesthetic qualities.
Studies in the journals Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice and The Journal of Pain have shown that mindful meditation can improve pain ratings for everything from acute pain to chronic lower back pain in the elderly.