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February 2001 Volume 4, Issue 3:
Mind Body Relief: Soothing Pain and Stress
By Susie Mantell

My work is about Possibilities… and it is my deepest wish that you will find some here. I would give a lot to have known what we are learning today about pain and the power of the mind-body, during my father's battle with cancer in the 1960's. Creating techniques and strategies for coping with pain and stress has become a lifelong journey for me and facilitating clients, healthcare professionals, friends and family dealing with long-term illness has taught me much about Hope.

The pain associated with many long-term illnesses impacts every facet of everyday life. The pain may be episodic in nature, diffuse and migratory, or intense and unrelenting. And while there are many practices and techniques for pain and palliative care, what works one day is not as effective on another. So we need choices. In addition to medications which in many cases are exactly the right approach to manage extreme pain, mind-body and multi-sensory techniques are a powerful adjunct, found today in even the most “traditional” of institutions.

What are Endorphins?
‘Endorphin’ is Greek for ‘the morphine within’, describing pain-relief chemicals produced naturally in the body. The central nervous system is equipped with specific receptor sites for morphine-like substances that attach themselves to relay ‘stop pain’ messages. Discovered in the 1970's,
scientists now believe that in some cases anti-stress/pain hormones are secreted to block the signal of emotional pain too, easing tension, lifting depression, inducing a ‘lighter’ effect. Introducing new and varied ‘feel-good’ activities is a practical and delightful way to boost endorphins and enhance overall quality of life. 

Feel-Good Tips
Make a “Thrills List” of every thrill you've ever had... or intend to! Here are some simple pleasures you may have forgotten, and perhaps a couple you've never thought of. Have fun!

  • Listen to music you love... or make some!
  • Start a journal... Write a poem...
  • Call, write or e-mail an old friend.
  • Make up with somebody you're angry at.
  • Do something kind for someone.
  • Sometimes laughter is the best medicine of all. Watch a funny movie – or a tearjerker!  Crying can be a release too.
  • Find Mother Nature. (Try the beach, woods, mountains, desert.)
  • Take yourself to a concert, sporting event,  museum, gallery or crafts show. 
  •  Treat yourself to a manicure, pedicure, facial, or new hairstyle.
  • Organize your photos in an album or frame that picture you haven't gotten around to.
  • Brew a cup of tea and do a crossword puzzle. Or curl up and read something utterly mindless.

Stress-Reduction Tips

  • Drink at least 8 glasses of purified water daily. (Check with your doctor first.)
  • Reduce or eliminate sugar, caffeine and alcohol. (Check with your doctor first.)
  • Get good, restorative sleep. 
  • Rest whenever you BEGIN to get tired. Listen to you body. Rest once a day or every hour if you must. Your body may say, “Okay, get up now and do one thing. Then rest again.” Being productive even in a small way lifts our spirits. (Someone in bed can be called upon to toss the salad, or sort socks, and feel more a part of things as a result.)
  • Share with a few friends how you are ‘really’ doing. Let them support, distract, or remind you of what might help.
  • Reduce stress in any way you can.
  • Clear out unhealthy thoughts, behaviors and people. Replace them with dreams, plans, activities and people who nourish your spirit.
  • As able, pursue interests that are FUN and completely unrelated to your health! 
  • Guided imagery audios are used in many oncology departments, chemotherapy sessions and at home by people living with cancer and their caregivers. They guide you through a mind-body experience for slowing down… and letting go….

Mindful Breathing for Pain Release

  • Softly place the tip of your tongue behind your top front teeth where they meet the  palate. Just gently placed – not pressing.  Notice as you do, how the muscles in the  jaw, cheek and throat soften.
  • Gently exhale old, stale air, making room for a fresh in-breath. Find a comfortable  rhythm, breathing slowly into a soft belly,  pausing briefly before exhaling. Listen to your  body to avoid ‘light-headedness’. Some find it helpful to repeat a soothing phrase to clear out ‘head noise’ and refocus. (e.g. “I Exhale tension, worry, pain… I inhale comfort,  peace, well-being.")
  • Imagine a glowing ball of colored light,  repeatedly breathing its soothing glow into  your discomfort… exhaling the pain. (Colors  may change or swirl. If none comes to mind, use clear white light.)
  • Stress tends to bring energy up around the  neck, jaw and shoulders. Imagine energy  lower… down into the hips, feet, grounding  yourself firmly. Imagine an elevator slowly  descending your spine to the tailbone.
  • There is a great breathing technique in Yoga  practice. Closing your eyes, repeatedly exhale through one nostril, inhale through the other,  clearing your mind, restoring balance. Focus  on each breath. It's easier using a finger to  close off one side while “using” the other nostril. Eventually you might not need to.

Peace of mind, positive outlook, a sense of adventure, meditation, conscious food choices and honest, supportive relationships all increase the ‘feel-good’ factor, and enhance physical and emotional health. I wish you all those things, and above all… peace.

Editor’s Note: Ms. Mantell customizes stress-management programs for hospitals, Fortune 500 companies and spas. Her award-winning relaxation audio, “Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace” has been used by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Mayo Clinic, Canyon Ranch and the U.S. Army. It can be ordered online or by calling (888) 32-BOOKS. For more of Ms. Mantell's FREE stress tips, go to www.relaxintuit.com.

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