How To Deal With Physical Pain and Difficult Emotions

How To Deal With Physical Pain and Difficult Emotions

As a coach who regularly works with clients struggling with pain, I've found even with similar injuries, people can experience different levels of pain intensity that fluctuate day to day. Sharing these suggestions about dealing with pain that I've come to understand through my studies and practice can help you understand pain and better cope. Ultimately, I want to give you the tools to train your brain and change your experience of pain.

I find many clients misunderstand or misinterpret the concept of pain. Pain serves a fundamental purpose: to protect you, tell you something is wrong, and motivate you to take action. Without pain, you wouldn't feel a needle prick or ankle sprain.

The pivotal, often overlooked concept is that your brain, not your body, creates pain. That understanding becomes a game changer because, new research reveals, when you understand pain, you can heal better and faster.

Rather than pain receptors, your body contains nociceptors that carry danger messages along nerves and up into the brain. Your brain interprets how you deal with that pain.

I want to be clear that pain is always real. Pain isn't in your head; it exists in your brain. When you understand your brain controls pain, you can take control to transform how you see and work through pain.

Keep in mind that pain is a complex experience

The way you experience pain is affected by many factors in addition to pain intensity, such as your emotional state (“I am angry that I am feeling this way”), beliefs about pain (“This pain means there’s something seriously wrong with me”), expectations (“These painkillers aren’t going to work”), and environment (“I don’t have anyone to talk to about how I feel”).

In fact, pain is generally recognized to be associated with three major components:

  • Physical sensations
  • Emotional response to the sensations
  • Social effects of the experience

Mindfulness can help you tune into the difference between these three experiences, making it possible to reduce the suffering associated with pain without necessarily reducing the severity of the pain itself. It can also help you approach your pain with less fear and more acceptance, allowing you to live life fully, even though you have pain.

Mindfulness may help you with the psychological experience of this injury by:

  • Decreasing repetitive thinking and reactivity
  • Increasing a sense of acceptance for unpleasant sensations
  • Improving emotional flexibility
  • Reducing rumination and avoidant behaviors
  • Enhancing self-compassion
  • Increasing a sense of acceptance for the present moment
  • Inducing the relaxation response and decreasing stress

Every individual has a specific way to handle and overcome pain in their life. Some are destructive ways like- depending on heavy drugs and medications, not doing required therapy, just living with the pain as if it is a normal way to live, feeling like a victim, and some are constructive ways to deal with pain.

Here are my suggestions on constructive ways to handle pain. As always, please personalize these recommendations to meet your own needs.

Techniques To Try When Dealing With Pain:

  • Tune into the physical sensations, not the thoughts about pain. Bring an attitude of kindness toward the sensations, even though they may be unpleasant. Your body isn't purposefully making you suffer. Treat it as you'd treat a child in pain.
  • Switch your attention to a part of your body that is pain-free. At first, you might think there isn't such a place, but with persistence, you can find it. It could be your toes, your face, your chest. Relax into that pain-free sensation, allowing it to become the predominate sensation if you can, even if for just a few moments. This allows you to see that you are not just pain since there's at least one place on your body that is pain-free. You can take this technique a step further and engage a pain-free area in some movement. I'll reveal a secret because at least you won't see me in action. I sometimes lie on my back in bed and move my hands in balletic movements. I love to watch my hands and fingers imitate the grace of a ballerina.
  • Try imagery. Think about a place from the past when you were pain-free. My place is a beach in Hawaii. I picture the waves crashing onshore and I recall the warmth of the sand. Wherever your place is, transport yourself there. Using imagery to take your mind off your pain relaxes the body, including the muscles around the pain site. This can reduce your overall pain load.
  • Breathe right to ease pain. Concentrating on your breathing when you're in pain can help. When the pain is intense it's very easy to start taking shallow, rapid breaths which can make you feel dizzy, anxious or panicked. Instead, breathe slowly and deeply. This will help you to feel more in control of the situation and will keep you relaxed and prevent any muscle tension or anxiety from worsening your pain.
  • Experiment with using the word “discomfort” instead of “pain.” Shifting your language around pain may help your experience as the words we use shape our thoughts!
  • Try a Guided Meditation during an episode of discomfort. A good one to start with is this 10 minute guided healing meditation or this Meditation for Working with Difficulties , which is a free guided meditation offered by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center . I've also included a guided mindfulness meditation as an attachment below in this lecture.
  • You might want to experiment with different meditations or stress relieving smart phone applications. Refer to the “Best stress and mindfulness apps” downloadable PDF in the Stress Reduction lecture of this course to explore some that might work for you.
  • Try the "5 Step Pain Process" technique. Review the attached PDF to learn how to practice this.
  • Use the "Soften, Soothe, Allow" mindfulness technique. This is one of my FAVORITE practices for dealing with uncomfortable emotions and sensations. Check out the attached PDF to learn how to practice the soften, soothe, allow technique.

Be patient with yourself when trying these techniques. If you try them and they don't help relieve your pain, take a deep breath, send non-judgmental compassionate thoughts to yourself—"it's hard to try these techniques and not have them work right away"—and then set the intention to try them again soon.

Mindset, exercise, stress control, optimal sleep, and nutrition are among the many things you can do to take control and minimize pain's impact. Lifestyle factors play far more of a role in pain management than conventional medicine often wants to acknowledge. But that is why this course is here. To help you take control and do what you can to live a healthy lifestyle. To help you mindfully navigate the healing process and not let the burden of pain weigh down your life.

Which of these suggestions works for you? Do you have another healthy technique you use to cope with pain in your life? Please share your experiences in the comments below or leave a suggestion in the facebook group. Having healthy ways to cope with healing is often one of the most challenging parts of this process and your story may help another in their life.

5 step pain process.pdf

Guided Mindfulness Meditation On Coping With Pain

Additional Resources to Help In Dealing With Physical Pain


The Pain Toolkit is a free NHS-endorsed booklet packed with simple practical advice on how to live better with long-term pain. Download the booklet (PDF, 5.4Mb).

Practice (audio, PDF, and video): The RAIN of Self Compassion