Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, so please see this as a personal piece of writing, and follow up with your own research as required.
Living with chronic pain can be overwhelming. The sources of chronic pain are numerous, and can derive from neuropathic sources where there is nerve damage, from external injury, from psychosomatic pain and / or a combination of these as well as various other factors.
Psychosomatic pain can be wide ranging, but can include pain stemming from depression, post traumatic stress, complex (severe and repeated) trauma, grief, and so forth and can be just as intense and debilitating as pain from more physically identifiable sources. Neurological pathways in the brain can be triggered causing pain receptors to be stimulated with psychosomatic pain being as ‘real’ and intense as pain from nerve damage and / or external injury.
Living with ongoing pain can also have a massive impact upon a person’s mental health, outlook on life, general wellbeing, and relationships with others. However, just as pain can be triggered by non-physical factors, I believe, so too can it be alleviated similarly as well.
There is a light-hearted phrase that I find particularly helpful to bear in mind. That is: “neurons that fire together, wire together”. (Donald Hebb, 1949 – Canadian neuropsychologist). What this means is that our brain cells communicate with each other in a process that involves synaptic transmission where chemicals or neurotransmitters are released and absorbed by other brain cells, in a process that can be called ‘neuronal firing’. Whenever we have any experience, feeling, physical experience, or thought (yes, thought), this process occurs and over time ‘neural networks’ are formed, and such pathways can be strengthened, and can trigger the process of this ongoing ‘communication’ with other cells in the ‘network’.
Simply put, if pain sensations are triggered, then certain neural networks are activated, and pain is intensified.
As I italicised above, thoughts can trigger the firing of neurons and the wiring of neural connections. If you think about it, if you dwell on a negative thought or on a painful symptom, you are more likely to experience that pain with greater intensity, remember other times and experiences when you were in pain, and feel less resistant to overcoming it.
Similarly, if by thought you can activate the ‘pleasure sensors’ in the brain, you are more likely to remember other positive experiences, feel calmer and more able to manage your pain-related symptoms, and gain resistance and even the ability to withstand greater levels of pain.
I do believe that to some extent, what you focus on ‘expands’. From personal experience, focusing on pain tends to make it feel all the more overwhelming, whereas engaging in healthy distractions for the mind such as absorbing oneself in a creative pursuit, taking time to dwell on positive experiences, keeping a ‘gratitude journal’, practicing calming exercises such as controlled breathing and focusing on natural and beautiful things can overtime strengthen our ability to “activate” those neural pathways that trigger pleasurable sensations over painful ones, and overtime the exercise of this habit can greatly strengthen our fortitude to manage and overcome chronic pain, or at the least to alleviate it to some extent.
Please bear in mind that I am not advocating doing this to the exclusion of utilising medical help and prescribed pain relief. As mentioned previously the sources of chronic pain are numerous, therefore I would not venture to provide such foolhardy advice – there is a place for medical treatment of course. However, chronic pain can often leave people feeling overwhelmed, defeated and like victims of their conditions. Taking control of our thoughts and strengthening positive neural networks in our brain brings back an element of control into the process and can add to our feelings of fulfilment in life.
I wish you all well on your journeys and hope that you find relief and blessing, and look forward to hearing your thoughts.
God bless. x