Using the Brain to Reduce Pain

May 10, 2018

I have lived with dystonia and chronic pain for nearly 20 years. In addition to many treatments I have used over that time, I constantly work to naturally increase the production of certain chemicals in my brain to reduce pain and help with other symptoms. Among them are neurotransmitters called dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, and oxytocin, which are often referred to as the “feel good” or “happy” chemicals. They can be as powerful as drugs for pain, depression, anxiety, and other conditions. Let’s play around with endorphin, the body’s natural pain killer (our own private narcotic).

Endorphin affects us like codeine and morphine by blocking a cell’s transmission of pain signals, but without the addiction. In addition to decreased feelings of pain, release of endorphin leads to feelings of euphoria, better immune function, and less stress. Endorphin is popularly associated with “runner’s high”, but no need to worry if you don’t run. There are numerous ways to increase production of endorphin, and the other “happy chemicals”, besides strenuous workouts. These include but are not limited to the following:

Massage
Acupuncture
A good movie
Prayer
Positive thinking/affirmations
Physical exercise
Music and dancing
Laughter (even fake laughter does the trick! The brain doesn’t know the difference between real or fake laughter. Even the anticipation of something funny releases endorphin)
Regular sleep/wake cycle
Shopping
Fun hobbies (arts and crafts, photography, quilting, cooking, nature walks)
Quality time with family and friends
Sex (including cuddling, kissing, and holding hands with a romantic partner)
Good deeds (the flood of endorphin and serotonin caused by being generous has been called “helper’s high”)
Reading a good book
Meditation and controlled breathing exercises (breathe through your stomach; not your chest)
Being around animals
Sauna/hot tub
Biofeedback
Alcohol (light drinking; heavy drinking negates the effect)
Nutrition (anti-inflammatory foods)
Sunlight

Practically all of these things are at our disposal, so we should try and take advantage of them as much as we can. Not all of them will be of help (or interest) to everyone, but I wanted to share many of the options available to us. I also recognize that when we are in severe pain and feeling mentally down (I have been there!!), these things are not always easy to do or yield results the first or first few times doing them. If this is the case for you, maybe start with one thing you enjoy and do your best to make it part of your lifestyle. Being consistent gives us a greater chance for immediate and long term benefit.

When people ask me the different things I do to help control my dystonia symptoms and manage my chronic pain,  I usually mention many of these things. I can’t say for sure how much they play a role, but when I do not do them on a regular basis, pain is more severe. I also experience more “down” moods and higher anxiety.

Among the many things I do, one of my favorites is watching a sunset. Below is a photo of one of thousands I have taken. Being near the water that time of day brings me incredible peace. I hope you also find things that bring peace and joy into your life.

Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone suffering with any life challenge. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, and volunteers for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, for WEGO Health as a patient expert panelist, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network. To learn more about Tom’s coaching practice and get a copy of his book, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.

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10 responses to “Using the Brain to Reduce Pain”

  1. Nikki Stones says:

    Like you Tom, I have discovered that many of these things done regularly have helped me to rise from depression and decrease the amount of pain. Just one of these things done daily is a step on the first rung of the ladder out of the black hole of misery. Thank you for writing the article to help others x

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Thank you Nikki. You have done so much to help yourself and share that journey with all of us, for which we are very grateful. Keep up the great work inspiring so many of us!

  2. Karen S says:

    Tom, thank you for writing this article. So many of the things you listed are right there for me. Just have to pick out a few and make it part of my daily routine. I know you always say baby steps. Thank you again for this article.

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Choose your favorites and baby step your way into them. Don’t ever forget that you are safe and will get better 🙂

  3. Tara Skeen says:

    As always, great article Tom!…Love Tara

  4. Barbara Elmlinger says:

    Thank you for the list of things we can do to encourage our happy chemicals to kick in. I have done several of them, and I have to agree, I’m pretty happy when I’m doing them.

    • Tom Seaman says:

      That’s great to hear! I am finding that even after doing some of them there is a lingering happy affect for hours up to days. Feeling well is such great motivation.

  5. Ashley Roate says:

    Thanks for the message, I needed to read it today. I’m a few more days away from getting botox. At pt I’ve been pretty emotional after my episode I had, especially because of my lack of movement AND requiring nerve pain… I haven’t been moving or exercising more or less because of the fear that takes over knowing what I will feel like, AFTER EXERCISING. which much of the time it is a “good pain” but my body reads it as “bad” pain until I wake up the next day. So I’ve been using more of the natural ways to help get me over that anxiety to forget what happens directly after. I question if they are effective to keep doing it cause I still hurt as much as I do… and the answer is, yes it is effective and I need to keep doing that, because I am super proud of where I am compared to a week ago. Sometimes reading your stuff just makes it click. Thanks again!

    • Tom Seaman says:

      I would be pretty emotional after that episode as well. It is scary and makes it hard to trust the body, which causes more restriction and pain. I’m so happy to hear that you are finding the things you are doing to be effective. Don’t ever forget that feeling and trust that your body was meant to move and just let it flow. Maybe keep that word in your mind as you move. I find dancing to be really helpful for teaching/re-teaching me how to flow and move smoothly.

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