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Less Pain, Fewer Pills: How to Use Your Mind-Body Connection for Relief

From the Show: Naturally Savvy
Summary: How can you harness the power of your mind, and the mind/body connection, to help ease the pain in your body?
Air Date: 11/19/14
Duration: 10
Host: Andrea Donsky, RHN and Lisa Davis, MPH
Guest Bio: Beth Darnall, PhD
Dr. Beth Darnall is Clinical Associate Professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at Stanford University. A pain psychologist, she has treated patients with chronic pain for 15 years. She serves on the boards of directors for several national pain organizations, editorial boards, is a section editor for Pain Medicine, and was the 2012 President of the Pain Society of Oregon. She is a frequent national speaker and is a columnist for the National Pain Report, "Ask Dr. Beth, Pain Psychologist."

Research topics include opioids, the impact of psychological factors on neural functioning, inflammation, and sensory perception; and broadening access to low-cost pain care with novel chronic pain treatments. Her specialized treatment tools include a DVD for phantom pain and a binaural relaxation response audio CD for general chronic pain conditions. She is the author of Less Pain, Fewer Pills, © 2014, Bull Publishing. Her main passion is empowering people with chronic pain to harness the power of their mind-body connection to reduce symptoms and optimize health. She provides public education about pain psychology in her Psychology Today column entitled “Less Pain, Fewer Pills: How to use your mind-body connection to your advantage.”
  • Book Title: Less Pain, Fewer Pills: Avoid the Dangers of Prescription Opioids and Gain Control over Chronic Pain
  • Guest Twitter Account: @BethDarnall
Less Pain, Fewer Pills: How to Use Your Mind-Body Connection for Relief
If you suffer from chronic pain, or even just aches and pains once in awhile, you know how debilitating it can be.

But, rather than relying on pain medications, how can you harness the power of your mind, and the mind/body connection, to help ease the pain in your body?

According to Dr. Beth Darnall, author of Less Pain, Fewer Pills: Avoid the Dangers of Prescription Opioids and Gain Control over Chronic Pain, the first and most important way to approach this is to understand exactly what pain is. Pain isn't just the physical discomfort you feel in your body; that "ouch." It's both a negative sensory and emotional experience.

So, what you feel emotionally has a major impact on what your body feels physically.

And, it's important to keep in mind that every pain, every ache you feel, is processed in your brain. The circuitry that processes negative emotions is the same circuitry that processes physical pain. There is a lot of overlap because of this... when you experience pain, you also experience negative emotions. Alternately, when you experience negative emotions, it can amplify your experience of pain.

Once you understand this, and work it into your consciousness, you can use certain techniques to help reduce the pain you're feeling and calm that negative circuitry that's related to how you process emotions and pain.

What can you do to calm your nervous system and ease the pain you're feeling?

There are numerous techniques that help reduce heart rate, slow your breathing, calm your mind, and reduce the amount of tension in your muscles. Techniques such as this are referred to as the relaxation response.

If you're dealing with chronic pain, it's critical that you regularly apply this relaxation response to combat that constant stressful input that's coming into your brain and your body... even several times a day.

You also need to come to realize how your lifestyle choices impact your pain. For instance, lack of sleep, too much activity, smoking, a hectic work schedule, even the stress you feel in your relationships can have a major impact on the amount (and severity) of pain you feel. If you neglect all these other factors, all you know is that your pain is worse; not necessarily why it might have gotten to that point.

If you're taking pain medications, you may be able to start reducing the dosage and frequency by incorporating these techniques on a consistent basis.

Medications can play a part in an overall plan to reduce pain; but you don't want it to be your only option. Many people end up being addicted to pain pills, which then only spurs a further decline in health. Not only that, but if you rely exclusively on pain medications, you're neglecting your body's own power to heal itself.

What if you suffer from certain sensory processing disorders, or anxiety, where your nervous system is constantly in a heightened state?

Many people who suffer from chronic pain suffer from central sensitivity syndrome, which means that they are bombarded by things like light, sound, and emotions. For these individuals, it's even more critical to help manage the sensitivities, as well as the constant stressors in their lives.

Finally, it's essential to pay special attention to your sleep patterns. The severity of your pain can heavily depend on the amount and quality of sleep you get the night before. Exercise can also be extremely important. While it may sound counter-intuitive, exercise -- at the level which you can handle -- is one of the best therapies to address chronic pain.

Listen in as Dr. Darnall joins Lisa to share more about how the mind/body connection works and how understanding the process can help address -- and perhaps even eliminate -- your pain.