There are recent studies showing that, by using relatively little distraction, the perception of pain can be diminished. I think there are many ways of distracting the nervous system so pain is not at the forefront. However, pain is relentless and it is not possible to sustain this re-direction of your brain unless the associated anxiety driven by frustration is first addressed. Breaking the anxiety-pain bonds is the most important part of the sequence. The self-directed sequence on this web site has five phases with five steps each. The steps culminate in Phase V: “Blue Sky” or “The Spiritual Journey.” I define spiritual as anything in life that is outside of you family, friends, good wine, engaging experiences, etc. It just is that if your mind is truly engaged, it is “there” not “here.” The following is step one of Phase V—“Blue Sky—The Spiritual Journey.”
Step 1—Understand the importance of “stepping into your new life”
When you are engaged with your true value system and pursuing your interests based on that connection, it is probably the most powerful way of creating new neurological pathways. I will term this, “living an engaged life.”
When you are driving home from work your brain will not remember every car, house, tree, and store that you will pass. Your brain will screen most of it out. Your nervous system is hierarchal. In other words, it will just remember what is most prominent. It is the reason that rehabilitation physicians emphasize function over pain relief in their treatment of chronic pain. As you become more active and functional, your focus will be diverted onto your life. The pain circuits will move down the chain. If your life revolves around first getting rid of your pain and then being able to live your life, “forget it.” You are done. Your pain will progressively occupy more and more of your conscious thoughts.
If you are just engaging in activities to distract yourself from your pain, you will have the same problem. Your pain is still running the show.
When you no longer have anxiety and anger controlling your life, you can engage in your life with zeal. It is the ultimate paradox of the human existence. It is not that you will get rid of anxiety and frustration. It is that they no longer control you. You will connect with yourself, family, friends, and the essence of your existence. Adversity, including chronic pain, will also not control you. New brain pathways will be created. It has been astounding how much of an effect this approach has had in decreasing my patients’ pain. I would never have predicted this sequence ten years ago.
I have many patients who have a lot of success in decreasing or eliminating their pain in the midst of working through “phase II.” They are so much better than they were that they usually discontinue moving forward through the rest of the phases. I let them know that they have just barely “put their toe in the water.” There is a life to be lived that they have never experienced.
Truly looking up and outward is critical.