Podcast - Page 3 of 3 - Pain 2 Possibilities

Another tool for your pain management toolbox: Sleep

​There is nothing like a good slumber! Sleep is one of the non negotiable tools in your pain management toolbox, and for very good reason. It is one of the most fundamental support systems we have.

We are learning through recent research just how important sleep is when it comes to the maintenance of your overall health and in the recover of pain and injury. It's reach is broad and effects your ability to manage pain, to repair after injury or exercise, to manage autoimmune disorders, stress and emotional well-being, just to name a few!

It can be difficult getting a good nights sleep when you are living with chronic pain which then in turn restricts your healing and unfortunately also increases your pain perception.

​So how does sleep help your body manage pain? Let's explore...

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  • Sleep is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps to reduce inflammation while you slumber.
  • Just like food and water, sleep is a non-negotiable of health and well-being even though it can remain elusive for those with CP.
  • ​Stress management. Without a proper night's sleep, your body experiences greater stress. Stress makes your nervous system more sensitive to pain.
  • You can cope with pain much more effectively with a good rest under your belt due to a decrease in your pain response.

​Sleep can remain a little elusive and challenging at times but try these simple steps to help you get the rest you need to manage your chronic pain a little bit more strategically.

  1. 1
    Create a set schedule for sleep. Be as intentional about when you are going to sleep as you are for eating your meals. Put it in your schedule so that it takes priority.
  2. 2
    Eat dinner a little earlier as a full stomach can keep you up at night and make it harder to fall asleep, especially as we age.
  3. 3
    Remove yourself from electronics well before bedtime and dim the lights. The blue light from electronics stimulates the part of the brain responsible for alertness and readiness.
  4. 4
    Read a book or have some quiet time where you can listen to your breathing and calm your thoughts, especially after a busy or painful day.
  5. 5
    Avoid caffeine (yes that includes chocolate) after 1:00 pm as it is a stimulant and will make it more difficult to fall into quality sleep. (perhaps that means we can eat chocolate for breakfast or is that just wishful thinking?)

How Joy, Pleasure and Awe lessens the pain

​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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  • Create your list of things that bring you pleasure or creates that sense of awe...brainstorm and then write them down
  • ​Daily dose: Carve out a few minutes per day to practice joy everyday, mix in a little pleasure and if we are lucky...awe. Schedule it into your daily routine and then as Nike says, 'Just Do It'
  • ​When you do experience joy, pleasure or awe be sure to fully appreciate that moment and the feelings associated with it...pay attention to the small details
  • Shared pleasures: Doing something that brings you joy or pleasure with someone you love is double the dose of benefits
  • Keep it simple: It does not need to be some grand adventure...experiences of joy and pleasure and come from many places, especially when we are paying close attention!
  • Rinse and repeat!


Breathing is something that we often take for granted day in and day out. As a matter of fact, when I ran a Wellness centre for big Pharma, I would often joke with the employees that they should learn how to breathe. To which they quickly replied…I already know how to breathe. Ever wonder what’s actually going on in there when you take a deep breath? Simply put, it looks like this:
1) lung ventilation:
This is the initiation of external respiration through which inhaling and exhaling occur.
2) gas exchange:
O2 (oxygen) and CO2 (carbon dioxide) pass through the surface of the lungs.
3) gas transfer:
This is the transport of O2 from the lungs (through that inhale) and to the tissues, and of CO2 back to the lungs (for that deep exhale).
Go ahead. . . take another deep breath. Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. And this is where all good things begin!
Paying attention to our breathing serves many, many benefits. Breath increases energy, calms the nervous system by slowing down the fight or flight response, improves our respiratory system and all the muscles that support it (think Diaphragm, the intercostals between the ribs, into the shoulders and spine), improves our cardiovascular and digestive systems and can slow a busy mind. One of my favourite functions of deep breathing is in the management of pain. I could go on but this is a great start.
One of the simplest ways I can pass along to practice deep, rhythmic breathing is ‘four corner breathing’. Visualize if you will, the outline of a book. As you follow your eyes along the top edge of the book take a slow, deep breath in. When your eyes turn the corner and follow the book’s edge down, hold your breath. When your eyes turn the corner again to follow the bottom edge, breathe out slowly and completely. Hold you breath one last time while your eyes follow the outside of the book up to the start point. This is great for kids and grown ups alike!

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The Flatulent Car And Innocence Lost

‘Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional’
This, by far is one of my favourite quotes from the wildly creative Walt Disney and it resonates with me now more than ever. So what exactly does a car with gas (which is quite ironic as you will see in a moment) and Walt Disney have to do with each other? Allow me to explain…
I was at my very part time corporate job (I run a small employee wellness program at a local engineering company) last week where one of the heads of a department pulled me into her car to show me something. It is a Tesla that has a woopy cushion feature that you can control where the sounds are coming from. Those of you who know me would understand that I instinctively found this to be very amusing! You can also see the irony in the whole thing as it is a Tesla and they do not run on gas…but I digress.
My point is simply this…getting back to your ‘child like’ self can be an extremely healthy adventure! I will take it one step further and say that in losing or misplacing our youthful creativity, we lose out on opportunities for personal growth.
Creativity starts with the willingness to to look at the world through innocent eyes. It involves shaking ourselves from our prejudices and and established thinking or doing habits.
Sadly, the world grinds away at our trust and our innocence. Experience often teaches us to doubt, to scoff or roll our eyes. Think back to when you were young, where the world was a place of limitless possibilities. Everywhere you looked, you found something new and different. This type of boundless clarity is often lacking in our behaviours as adults, especially when it comes to finding solutions to our ‘stuck state’ of wellbeing.
As Aldous Huxley once wrote, “The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.” Next time you are feeling stuck, ask your inner child…what would they do?
So, I challenge you. What can you do today that will help you get back to your childlike creativity?
What actions might you take to get you back to a giggly state where you really feel the ‘freeness’ of a deep belly laugh? For me it was simply saying yes (because it would have been very easy for me to say, ‘sorry I don’t have time’) to being in my co-workers car and having a fantastic giggle about something so deliciously juvenile.

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The ageing health gap

A review of the Global Burden of Disease study (2016), which tracks the prevalence of deaths and diseases worldwide, contains some good news: On average people are living about a decade longer than they were in 1980. Which probably doesn’t come as a surprise. But there’s a catch: Health hasn’t improved as fast as life expectancy overall, which means that for many, those long, final years are spent hobbled by illness and disability.
The study, published this week in The Lancet and conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, uses a metric called “Disability Adjusted Life Years.” DALYs, as they’re abbreviated, combine the number of years of life a person loses if they die prematurely with the amount of time they spend living with a disability.
In rich countries, the number one cause of these DALYs is not surprising: ischemic heart disease, which is associated with well-known Western issues like high cholesterol and obesity. But the number two condition is a little strange: plain, old-fashioned, ever-present, low back and neck pain:
Even when you include poor and middle-income countries, low back and neck pain went from ranking 12th as a cause of DALYs globally in 1990 to ranking fourth in 2015, the most recent year. In most countries, it was the leading cause of disability. DALYs from low back and neck pain increased by more than 17 percent from 2005.
So what to do about it? Prevention and regular maintenance! In it’s simplest form…move, eat well and establish who your maintenance team is. Get up and away from your desk regularly, see your Massage therapist, your Chiropractor, whomever you choose to be on your ‘team’ and support it all with good, solid nutrition to nourish the demands placed on your body.

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