Avoidance and acceptance of chronic pain
Date: 10th December 2021 | By: Dr Lourdes Gaspar
This article succinctly deals with the effects of what happens when we suppress, avoid, and use distraction to cope with ongoing pain and discomfort.
But firstly it is important to say that we have a growing understanding that the generation of chronic pain and the emotional response occurs at an intertwined neurobiological level. The idea that chronic pain is “all in the mind” should be dispelled.
The article reviews several recent studies. One study form the University of Medicine in Chicago “revealed that the avoidance of emotions related to pain was connected to higher levels of depression and anxiety and higher ratings on pain and fatigue”.
Another study from Stockholm, Sweden, looked at anxiety in people and how it related to “holding pain and tension in their body”. Participants were entered into a program where they encourage to let go of trying to avoid the pain and learn to pay more attention it.
They concluded “This leads to a paradox. The only way out of the suffering is to jump back into it. The only way to ease the pain, and at the same time to heal the body, is to attend to and feel the pain” . This can lead to a greater ability to relax muscular tension which can in lead to less anxiety which in turn can lead to less tension and so forth- leading to a positive cycle of recovery.
Another study from Gothenburg, Sweden looking at pain and d discomfort from irritable bowel syndrome showed that paying more attention to uncomfortable sensations through program of body awareness training showed a reduction in “IBS symptoms such as gastrointestinal dysfunction and pain, reduced body tension, increased ease of movement, improved body awareness, fewer headaches, and reduced anxiety and depression”. In addition, participants reported “greater self-confidence, increased coping ability, and showed lower levels of salivary cortisol (released in stress situations)”.
The article concludes saying, “The bottom line is to learn—on our own or with professional guidance—to become comfortable with our discomfort. When our system fights against the pain, it causes more pain and other distressing symptoms. It may sound counter-intuitive, but just allowing ourselves to feel our physical and emotional pain actually helps the nervous system to recognize and integrate those sensations. This has the effect of teaching us that pain is not a threat and also reducing the felt intensity of the pain. Accepting and feeling our pain is another way in which our body sense can become restorative and healing.
At www.ACTforPAIN.com in our structured program (8 modules in all) we guide our participants through how it is possible to simply “sit” with chronic pain, whatever shape or form it may take.
We explore the difficulties, dilemmas, fears, doubts that embarking on new relationship with your pain can bring especially as this article suggests the concept of embracing your pain is so counterintuitive. Although it is self- management program, we have a team of pain specialists and psychologists to guide you at every twist and turn.