Train Your Mind to Ease Your Pain

Pain is a fact of life, but it doesn't have to rule you. Reshape your relationship with pain with these 11 strategies.

Illustrations by Colleen MacIsaac

Pain. Even hearing (or reading) the word can elicit a wince from just about anyone who has ever experienced it—and that would be everyone.

Pain presents itself in myriad forms and textures—acute and chronic, intense and mild. It affects us physically and emotionally—sometimes both at once. Experiencing it is an unavoidable reality of being human. And yet we spend a significant portion of our lives trying to avoid it.

What might happen, then, if we were to stop trying to resist pain? Consider these tips for managing whatever pains you, now or in the future.

1. Trust your body

Feeling pain doesn’t mean your body has failed. In fact, it signals a body doing its job by letting you know something’s up. By heeding its wise (if blunt) counsel, you can effectively identify and deal with the cause.

2. Resist resistance

For most of us, the natural response to pain signals is resistance—to push them away or deny that they even exist. Yet ignoring pain only serves to add an extra layer of angst to an already unpleasant situation. Not only do you still have the pain to deal with, but now you have to keep up the ruse that the pain isn’t really there. Inviting pain in is the first step to understanding how to come to terms with it.

3. Put it under the microscope

When you acknowledge pain you have the opportunity to study it, to bring the quality of calm investigation to an experience that may have at first seemed like a scary jumble of sensations. Where does it originate? How does it travel through your body? Where is it most strongly felt, and where does it taper? Take note of precise characteristics: heat, coolness, tingling, tightness, vibration, pressure. By learning the patterns, the fine points, and even the temperament of your pain, you can start to peel away its intimidating mask.

4. Dig in, and dig deep

Pain has a more complicated personality than you think—so don’t quit the conversation at the “small talk” phase. Bring an attitude of interest, receptivity, and curiosity, w