As we get ready for a new year, it’s not just a time for resolutions focused on healthy eating, fitness, or career goals—consider turning your attention inward to address chronic pain through the power of intention. The intricate relationship between stress, anxiety, and chronic pain is often underestimated, with the key player being the complex network of neural pathways within our brains.
In this journey of self-discovery and improvement, understanding how these factors intertwine with the brain-pain connection becomes paramount. Here are five New Year’s resolutions designed not just to ease chronic pain symptoms but to use the remarkable concept of neuroplasticity, which can rewire your brain and provide pain management. Resolutions that step outside traditional goals can offer a path to change and a brighter, less pain-dominated year ahead.
Resolution 1: Embrace Mindfulness
Mindfulness isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a powerful tool that can help you on your journey to pain management. Often, chronic pain can spiral into a cycle of anticipation, dread, tension, and fear. Mindfulness breaks this cycle by encouraging you to be present in the moment, fostering awareness without judgment. You can begin to practice tuning in, rather than operating in a state of autopilot.
Find moments in your day to incorporate brief mindfulness sessions, focus on your breath, or engage in guided meditations. Over time, this practice can help calm your nervous system, easing the grip of pain on both the mind and body.
Resolution 2: Practice Self Compassion
It’s easy to be hard on yourself this time of year. Many people are talking about all their goals and healthy habits, and it may begin to feel like you don’t measure up. Engaging in negative thoughts about yourself can lead the brain to release cortisol and adrenaline, leading to increased tension and pain. Instead of succumbing to self-blame or frustration, try self-compassion and treat yourself with kindness and understanding.
To put self-compassion into practice, start by reframing negative self-talk. When you catch yourself in a cycle of self-criticism, consciously shift your inner dialogue to more compassionate and understanding language. Develop a phrase or mantra that resonates with you and serves as a reminder to treat yourself with care and compassion. Remember, you are a human who is learning and growing and we all make mistakes along the way.
Resolution 3: Relax Your Muscles
Tightened muscles are often the body’s physical response to chronic pain, creating a feedback loop that exacerbates discomfort. Resolve to break this cycle by incorporating regular muscle relaxation exercises into your routine. This is a combination of mindfulness and practicing a release in your physical body.
Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or gentle stretching can release tension and promote a sense of physical ease. Letting your muscles hang and “melt” is another way to allow tension in the body to truly let go. Through consistent practice, you’ll not only soothe your body but also send signals to your brain that encourage a more relaxed state.
Resolution 4: Slow Down the Breath
Breath is a powerful ally in managing pain. During times of stress and pain, your breathing gets shallower and faster. This is how the body prepares you for perceived danger. But if you can work on relaxing the mind and the body, slowing your breath will come more easily.
Resolve to incorporate slow, intentional breathing into your daily routine. When pain flares, take a moment to focus on deep, diaphragmatic breaths. This simple yet effective practice activates the body’s relaxation response, calming the nervous system and promoting a sense of calm and ease. A more relaxed nervous system experiences less pain. Over time, this resolution can become a go-to tool for navigating moments of heightened discomfort.
Resolution 5: Engage in Somatic Tracking
Somatic tracking is a mindfulness-based tool to help you learn how to reinterpret sensations of pain in the body as safe. Fear and anxiety about pain can intensify the overall experience. This happens because your brain perceives that the sensation of pain in the body is “dangerous,” and responds with alarm. Your muscles tense up, your breathing becomes shallower, your heart rate increases and your anxiety spikes up even more. The fear-pain cycle is exacerbated leading to even more pain.
Somatic tracking teaches us how to reduce this fear. When you can understand that most chronic pain is due to neural pathways in the brain, your relationship with pain can change. Through somatic tracking, we learn to see pain as non-threatening or neutral. As you gain knowledge and practice, the fear of pain may gradually diminish, leading to pain reduction over time.
Managing Your Pain in the New Year
As you embark on these resolutions, remember that progress is a gradual journey. Be patient with yourself, celebrate small victories, and try not to get drawn into the pain-fear cycle. By weaving mindfulness, self-compassion, muscle relaxation, intentional breathing, and somatic tracking into your daily life, you’re not just resolving to manage chronic pain—you’re fostering a profound shift in the way you engage with your body and its sensations. To learn more about chronic pain therapy, check out our website or contact us. May the coming year be one of discovery, resilience, and healing.