Usually, when we experience pain, especially the one that gets worse in every passing minute, it’s hard to focus on anything else. You feel paralyzed, unable to do anything, just wishing for it to end. Medicines might help, appointments with physical therapists are beneficial as well, but there is another thing that you can do: visualizing your pain and guided imagery.
Unfamiliar with it? Let us make it clear for you. Essentially, guided imagery uses mind-body connection by tapping into your imagination. It’s a relaxation technique that aims to lower the levels of your stress hormones and increase the cognitive functions of your brain. To do so, you are required to stimulate all of your senses and create an imaginary experience to reconstruct the current experience of pain or fear—this can be done on your own or with the help of a professional, such as a physician, clinician, and a therapist. If you can envision how the pain leaves your body, it will calm your sympathetic nerves and de-escalate your “fight or flight” tendency.
Here’s an example. Perhaps, your knee is in so much pain that you can hardly walk. You can start imagining a reality where your knee is completely fine, and you can walk without any problems. Then, you are going for a hike. You see a beautiful view, hear the birds chirping, smell the fresh, crisp air, and pick some flowers along the way, too. The idea behind this visualization is that doing this will cause you to be immersed in pleasant images and scenarios, redirecting your attention from the pain and giving a sense of comfort. In addition, you may regain strength and hope, believing that you can actually overcome the pain.
Other than helping you relax, guided imagery may help reduce the side effects of any medication you’re under, improve psychological well-being, increase pain tolerance, speed up your healing process, and break the negative association your brain has made with pain. How does this happen? Through the relaxation achieved through guided imagery, chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine are released, blocking the signals sent to your brain from the nerves that are responsible to detect pain. Guided visualization is often accompanied with deep breathing, soothing music, and body scan meditations. If you’re not used to it, you can begin the visualization by imagining something simple, something familiar, such as how the rays of sun touch your skin, the way the ocean waves hit the shore, etc.
Another thing you can do is to visualize your pain in shapes and colors. For instance, you may create a mental image of the pain, perhaps imagining it as a big, red ball. Play with it for a while. Afterwards, as you exhale, imagine the ball getting smaller and smaller. Then, think about many different ways to get rid of the red ball. Maybe you crush it with a hammer, maybe it just explodes—whatever comes to your mind.
When you’re finished, you might find yourself feeling slightly better. However, keep in mind that it doesn’t make the pain completely go away. This is just another alternative that can be implemented along with other forms of therapy or medications. Repeating the visualization process is recommended whenever you begin to feel that the pain is unbearable. By doing so, you are learning to manage your pain better, no matter where, no matter when.