When your body aches are the kind that won't quit (e.g., chronic back pain or arthritis), painkillers -- even prescription medications -- aren't always enough. They can also make you feel weird and uneasy. When that happens (or if for whatever reason you just don't want to take them), try breaking the pain cycle with self-calming techniques -- and we don't mean downing a glass of wine. Persistent pain constantly pumps up your levels of stress hormones. That makes your brain think your back pain, for example, is worse than it actually is. Soon you're on a not-so-merry-go-round of ever-increasing stress hormones and escalating pain perceptions. How to get off the carousel? Dial back those pain-boosting stress hormones. Try:
- Listening -- really listening -- to soothing music. If you're tightly wound, listening to music will relax and distract your body and brain, taking attention away from the pain and allowing it to settle down. Love listening to your iPod? Music may make you healthier and smarter.
- Mindful meditation. Sit quietly, eyes closed, and focus only on how each breath feels (in, out, in, out). When other thoughts intrude, gently refocus on breathing. After 10 minutes or so, begin to notice your surroundings as you quietly breathe. Go about your day with this feeling of calm awareness and you'll find your joint pain isn't running you over.
- Movement. Non-strenuous activity can reduce pain sensitivity, be it arthritis or back pain. Water exercises or gentle yoga can help stop your whole body from becoming a pulsing pain generator.