Using the Brain to Reduce Pain
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:
A good movie
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
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
Alcohol (light drinking; heavy drinking negates the effect)
Nutrition (anti-inflammatory foods)
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 the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021). He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Patient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.