Did you know that just thinking about something else or doing something that keeps your mind focused elsewhere can provide a welcome relief from pain?
Distracting yourself from your pain doesn’t have to be very complicated. When you participate in or practice activities such as walking, swimming, spending time with friends or going to the movies, just to name a few examples, you often realize after the fact that your felt less pain than usual as your mind was focused on the activity, as opposed to paying close attention to your body.
Still, if you’ve ever tried to pay no attention to the pain, you know that sometimes trying to not think about pain makes us think about it more, which can then increase it. This is the delicate balancing act that comes with taking your mind off your pain: you can’t ignore your pain entirely and you can’t think about your pain too much, either.
So how do you take your mind off the pain to decrease it? Try this.
Dividing your attention
- First, feel the air coming in through your nostrils (or mouth) and then going out for two breaths.
- Now, for two more breaths, divide your attention so that you feel your breath and feel the sensations of your feet on the floor (or your body resting on a surface, if you are not sitting or standing) at the same time.
- Continue dividing your attention between breath and feet, or divide your attention a little more so that you also feel your pain.
- For a few more breaths, keep your attention divided in this way.
That’s it! It may take some practice, but many people tell us that dividing their attention:
- Provides more relief than full distraction.
- Works much better during movement and therapeutic exercises than paying no attention to the pain.
Pain is a protective mechanism
Some of us are masterful distractors, making it easier for us to ignore our pain when we’re exercising. Sometimes this can cause us to perform movements that aren’t safe for our body, which leads to more pain.
What’s important to remember is that pain is a protective mechanism. If we ignore pain entirely, the body can increase our level of pain to protect itself. Essentially, the body responds to us ignoring our pain by getting increasingly loud so that we’re forced to change your behavior. Dividing our attention can be tremendously beneficial, but we should also avoid ignoring our pain entirely.
If you’ve never tried it, practice dividing your attention. When you’re at rest, and especially when you’re completing your therapeutic movements or exercises, dividing your attention is a strategy worth exploring to find out how effective it can be for you.