Pain is both a physical AND an emotional experience. Ask anyone living in pain and they will tell you 'hell yes that's true'!
As a society we have become really good at attempting to block the pain, and in many cases to address the physical pain. We do, however, have some work to do around addressing the emotional side of chronic or persistent pain. And this is where pleasure, joy and awe come in to the rescue!
Pleasure is the opposite of pain in the spectrum of our human emotions. Pleasure helps to draw our brains away from pain to help us cope by calming our nervous system and bringing us out of the fight or flight mode. We can think of the opposition this way (thanks to Dr. Beth Darnell)...
pain is physical and emotional in a negative way and pleasure is physical and emotional in a positive way"
Experiencing pleasure and joy releases the feel good chemicals in your brain that lowers your pain experience and boosts your mood. And the good news is, you already have this pain management tool built right into your system...you were endowed with it at birth...now we just have to put it into practice!
So here's the big takeaway...getting out and experiencing life and it's multitude of emotions, most especially joy, pleasure and awe can seriously alter your experience with pain.
Science shows that the pleasure of remembering things you love stimulates the same changes in your brain as experiencing the same thing.
Awe is one of the most powerful human emotions we can experience. It is right up there with grief, just on the opposite end of the spectrum of course.
There was recently a study done by Beau Lotto, a professor of Neuroscience at University College in London where he and his team studied 270 people and their response to awe while watching a Cirque Du Soleil show in Las Vegas. The study divided the group into two. Half of the group wore an EEG cap to measure their brain activity while watching the show where the other group was given a questionnaire before and after the show.
The outcome for both groups were similar with some definite overlap.
Those who wore the EEG cap while watching the show and experiencing awe became lost in their experience. It was determined that the part of the brain responsible for controlling our attention was less active. They also found that the part of the brain that controls our sense of self had an increase in activity along with an increase in activity in part of the prefrontal cortex which increases our desire to approach a stimuli or to go forward.
In other words they were more willing to take risks, they were more comfortable with uncertainty and they redefined their perceptions of themselves.
Let's let that one sink in a little bit! You can see how powerful of a tool awe can be for someone who is being dragged down by the negative emotions associated with pain.
So how do you add awe or pleasure to your pain management tool kit?
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