Healing Pain With the Help of Behavioral Techniques after Illness and Injury

Research has a lot of evidence about the mind body connection and how healing can begin when we use our mind. People who go through surgeries, people who have terminal illness and suffer from excruciating pain, can learn to use the healing power of mind. Medications can do only so much, but when we supplement it with other tools, it speeds up the process of healing. One needs to tap into the powerful mind-body connection. Mind is a powerful healing tool. They are very much interconnected and influence each other on a regular basis. Your thoughts and emotions produce a significant change in your body. When we engage in physical exercise, there are many chemical changes and biological reactions that are occurring in our body. When we do something good for the body, it positively impacts our mind. In the same way, our mind has the potential to improve our physical state through chemical and biological reactions that take place in our body. For example, when we do visualization, it creates a change in our body, which Dr. Herbert Benson called, “Relaxation Response.” This is the opposite of the stress response known as “fight or flight response.”

We have two kinds of nervous systems in our bodies: Sympathetic nervous system and para sympathetic nervous system. When we are under stress, the sympathetic nervous system is activated leading to increase in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and blood supply to the muscles to help us prepare for the danger. However, the relaxation response activates the para sympathetic nervous system. Dr. Benson found that when the relaxation response is triggered there is a drop in blood pressure, heart and breathing rate, metabolism, and muscle tension. There is also an activation of the alpha waves which produces calmness in the person.

Healing Strategies Following Injury or Illness:


It is very essential to use meditation each day for five to ten minutes. Find a comfortable place sit and play some music in the background. Create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Dim lights, sound of a water fountain, a calming picture like Buddha, might enhance the environment for meditation. Don’t let your mind wander. Just focus on your breathing and chant a mantra if that helps you focus better. Inhale slowly and exhale slowly. Breathe from your diaphragm. If you have a meditation CD or a tape, that might help you concentrate better too. But once you use it, you will see that you can have a better perspective of your problems and may also surprisingly reduce the intensity of your pain too.

Visualization With Guided Imagery:

Think about a peaceful scene, beach, garden, forest or whatever makes you feel relaxed. Use your five senses to recreate the scene so that it feels real. For example, if you are visualizing a beach, see the waves ebbing flowing, hear the roaring sound of the wave, feel the sand underneath your feet, smell and feel the breeze ruffling your hair. In short, when you visualize the scene in detail, it will help evoke the sensory memory, strong emotions, or fantasy. Sometimes it is useful to visualize more than one scene. Cancer patients can visualize that they are killing the cancer cells with a toxic and their body is getting free of the cancer cells. They can visualize that the medicine they are taking is helping them heal from cancer. Whatever, you visualize, it has to have certain meaning for you to make it work.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

This technique has been described in detail in another blog post written by the writer on Panic Disorder. Here is how you do it. Sit down in a comfortable chair and tense and relax your muscle groups one at a time. There are sixteen muscle groups in our body and you start with your hands and go to the face, neck, shoulder, back, abdomen, legs, and feet. Count to ten when you tense the muscle group and relax them at the count of 15- 20 seconds. Once you reach your toes, you will notice that the relaxation has spread in all your muscle groups and you will feel relaxed. It is also called systematic progressive muscle relaxation because you systematically tense and relax your muscle groups one by one as opposed to doing the whole body altogether. There are so many relaxation scripts available on the internet and it might be a good idea to use it when doing progressive muscle relaxation. It is important to note that if you are recovering from an injury or surgery, you may not be able to tense all your body parts. The idea is to be gentle to your muscle groups and not hurt them in any way.

Relaxation Response

Dr. Herbert Benson is the pioneer of this technique. Research shows that when the patients are recovering from serious injury, cancer, surgery, or major illness, this technique helps a lot. Here is what you do. Pick a word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system. Sit quietly in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, relax your muscles progressing from feet to calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, neck, and head. Breathe slowly and chant your focus word, mantra, or silent prayer as you exhale. Remember to assume a passive attitude and focus. If you find yourself getting distracted with unwanted thoughts, focus your mind and return to your mantra. Continue this practice for ten to twenty minutes. Continue to sit quietly for a minute or so before opening your eyes. Sit for another minute before rising. If you practice this technique twice a day, you will be able to elicit the relaxation response and get the beneficial effects to aid your recovery.

These techniques are safe and easy to do and can help you tap into your mind-body connection. Think positive, be hopeful, and entertain positive thoughts which will further aid in your recovery. Sleep is also an integral part of healing. Sometimes the pain can keep you up and inhibit your sleeping. Wounds heal slowly when sleep deprivation occurs. Melatonin, produced in greater quantity during sleep helps immune function and healing. Sleep helps slow down the metabolism and conserves energy. It also cools the body and brain, improves immune function, and promotes good memory. Using the above four strategies might improve the quality of sleep and thereby promote the healing process of your pain.

One Comment

  1. Monish said:

    Very good article!

    People will often take 1-2 hours a day to go to the gym and exercise, but they don’t spend a lot of time training their mind. Yet the mind is very powerful. Doctors often write off the placebo effect when it is used in studies — but it is so powerful! The ability of our mind to believe in positive outcomes – affects your physical healing progress.

    Visualization is very powerful. Do you recommend any books?

    Guided metaphors are also very powerful — I have seen and heard many metaphiors. A lot of times when people are complaining about a problem (being resistant or being highly associated with their problem) — the easiest way to open them is to give them a good story that can provide other ways to deal with their problem. This helps them be more resourceful. Milton Erickson, the famous hypotherapist did this a lot. One book, I need to read is: http://www.amazon.com/101-Healing-Stories-Metaphors-Therapy-ebook/dp/B004WYTPCE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386201536&sr=8-1&keywords=metaphors+in+healing

    December 5, 2013

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