How to Develop a Pain-Free Mindset

by Justin Price |  Date Released : 03 Jan 2017

Using Your Brain to Your Advantage

Breathing is one of the only involuntary processes in the body that you can control voluntarily. Breathing patterns influence the nervous system and the brain’s control over bodily operations. Drawing breath in activates the sympathetic nervous system (i.e., our “flight and flight” responses) which causes the heart rate to rise, blood pressure to increase and the nervous system to excite. Breathing out activates the parasympathetic nervous system which slows the heart rate and allows the sphincter to relax (i.e., our “rest and recover” responses). The small pause between inhaling and exhaling helps us regulate these changes both physically and mentally (Van der Kolk, 2014). People who are hyper-aroused from sensations of pain (or who have anxiety issues surrounding their experiences of pain) are typically shallow breathers. They never fully take a deep breath in or exhale completely. This is in part because of their ongoing pain, but also because their amplified reactions to it have left them feeling nervous and agitated. This constant state of “flight or fight” leaves the person wearied and prevents physical and mental rest and recovery. This fatigue leads to more thoughts of dread and desperation, which further alters breathing patterns and continued experiences of pain (Van der Kolk, 2014). Retraining breathing patterns from shallow breathing to deep breathing can help change the brain’s (and body’s) involuntary (i.e., automatic) responses. Coaching clients to control their breathing (by taking long, slow, deep breaths in and out) when they experience physical sensations of pain can help them trigger a change in their nervous system and allow their system to “reset” (Sherrington, 2010).

The addition of positive affirmations and/or visualizations in combination with breathing awareness and control can also help clients change the way they experience pain. If physical sensations of pain produce thoughts that typically catastrophize the situation (e.g., thinking that they are never going to get better, believe the cause of their pain is not curable, etc.) teach them to strengthen their mindset using affirmations like, “This pain/condition is temporary. I am doing all the right exercises to strengthen my body and it will eventually get better”. Work with clients to develop their own affirmations using their own vocabulary. This will empower them to visualize an alternative way of thinking and help cement these new thoughts and emotions by putting them into words (Kushner, 2009).

woman taking deep breath

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Justin Price

About the author: Justin Price

Justin Price is the creator of The BioMechanics Method® which provides corrective exercise education and certifications for fitness professionals (available through PTontheNet).  His techniques are used in over 40 countries by Specialists trained in his unique pain-relief methods and have been featured in Time magazine, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, LA Times, Men’s Health, Arthritis Today, and on Web MD, BBC and Discovery Health. He is also an IDEA International Personal Trainer of the Year, their National Spokesperson for chronic pain, subject matter expert on corrective exercise for the American Council on Exercise, TRX and BOSU, former Director of Content for PTontheNet and founding author of PTA Global.

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