Physical Pain: 3 Things to Ask Yourself When You Are Hurting
When pain shows up, it’s there for a reason. This is pretty obvious most of the time. When you touch a hot stove the nerves in your finger send a message to your brain that it’s hot. This pain is a signal that protects your finger from getting burned (if you’re quick enough!).
Pain has a purpose—it’s there to get your attention. But it’s not always obvious why. Like when lower back pain shows up with no known injury or when someone is experiencing the symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Here are three things to ask yourself when pain shows up:
“What have I been doing?”
“What have I been thinking or saying?”
“What have I been feeling?”
What Have I Been Doing?
Say, for example, that your knee is suddenly painful when you put your weight on it. You ask yourself, “What have I been doing?” If the answer is, “I stepped awkwardly off that curb and twisted my knee” then you’ve probably just stressed that knee to the point of injury.
Some pain shows up hours or days later. As I write this, I can feel the soreness in my legs from bending and working in my garden this weekend. The discomfort didn’t show up immediately, but I know exactly why my legs hurt.
It’s usually fairly easy to recognize when you’ve done something that creates pain. What if you can’t find anything that you’ve been doing that might have caused that pain? Think about what you’ve been doing on a mental level.
What Have I Been Thinking or Saying?
Just recently I was enjoying lunch with my kids at home and suddenly I bit my tongue, really hard! After I got over the initial shock and pain, I asked myself, “What was I just saying?” I realized that I had said something that was not being true to myself.
I had just caught myself falling back into a pattern of putting my needs last. Wow, that painful bite on my tongue had actually served me by bringing something to my attention that I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.
Another more serious example of how the body responds to thoughts or words I heard from a workshop participant. She had a life-threatening illness that she had been diagnosed with during a time when her husband and son had been fighting constantly. She realized that she had been saying repeatedly to them, “You guys are killing me.” She felt that this mindset and her words had contributed to her illness.
What Have I Been Feeling?
Your feelings have a profound effect on your physiology.
I had the opportunity to work with a woman who was providing hospice care for her husband. She had two primary complaints: one, her husband (whom she had “been a good wife to for 39 years”) had become rude, difficult and unappreciative in the advanced stages of his illness; and two, she was experiencing pain in her right hip (she pointed to her right buttock) that was not responding to treatment and had no obvious cause.
I asked if she was feeling that caring for her husband was a pain in the a**? She agreed and was shocked to realize the connection between her feelings about her situation and the physical symptoms she was experiencing. I recommended that she work on processing her feelings about caring for her husband and consciously focus on experiencing positive emotions.
Practice and Patience
These signals from your body that come in the form of discomfort are not always easy to understand and interpret. This is one of those things where practice and patience are key.
The first step is always to create awareness. Most of us were not encouraged as children to pay attention to how our bodies feel and some of us became very disconnected from our bodies.
One of the best things you can do to facilitate this process is to take some time every day to be still, go inward and become aware of how your body feels. Where is it holding tension, does it feel even side to side, do you feel blocked anywhere?
Your body is a great source of information if you will just open yourself to it. It doesn’t take a lot of time but it does take practice and patience. And the results are so worthwhile when you truly listen to your body.