Embrace pain or distract yourself from it?

I had this very interesting conversation twice now, and thought I’d bring it here for more discussion.

Let’s say that you need to face some unavoidable physical pain for, say, 15-60 minutes. Dentist-level pain, for instance. Do you numb yourself out and go to your “happy place” (with your mind, not with drugs), or do you embrace it and fully try to feel it?

I let myself feel it fully and consciously calm the anxiety and physical tension pain causes. Though I’ve never experienced ‘dentist pain’ or a broken bone, etc, usually this technique seems to reduce the pain or stop it entirely within a short time.

I always say I can undergo any pain as long as I know it is temporary. Nobody is immune to pain at the most extreme levels, but attitude plays a big part of how you accept going into the situation and how you feel after with regard to repeating the process when needed. Concentrate on the positive aspects. Dental pain achieves a resultant repair. Injury pain achieves recovery. I have had many athletic and accidental injuries. The immediate pain is just mandatory. After the recovery process begins and you can think of it as recovery pain, it becomes what I call “good pain.” Pain is not always bad. It confirms you are living. Working through the pain feels good!

I think we need a new word besides pain. Pain has bad PR. We need to think of the physical sensations as one aspect and the mental as another. Below the highest level, you can control the mental. If distraction with music and such helps, go for it. I have nothing against chemical pain killers for extreme pain. Anything less, I don’t need it.

I embrace it.

I don’t understand the concept of embracing it. I can see either intentionally ignoring it or wallowing in it, and I know the latter is a bad idea, as it only makes you feel worse. Focusing on something bad only makes you feel worse.

I do know that “embracing” a panic attack means trying to make it worse, but surely you wouldn’t do that with legitimate pain. My tooth is broken, so let’s try to chomp it to bits to make it worse!

I am intrigued, because I wonder if it’s something I just can’t do, or if it’s merely something I’ve never tried. Please do elaborate on what you mean by embracing pain.

I meant dealing with it instead of pretending it didn’t exist.

That’s an interesting way of looking at it. I was thinking more of being in the moment with it rather than focusing on the future of it.

In one way, I like to stay with it. I don’t want to numb myself out to sensation. On the other hand, like BigT says, what you put your attention on tends to grow, and I have no interest in growing my pain. From a practical standpoint, I’ve found that the more I resist, the worse it gets. Bring it on, mofo!

I would spend the whole time diligently attempting to treat the pain. I’ve dealt with some pretty bad TMJ episodes within the last year, and I’ll alternate heat and cold with a strong massager–plus ibuprofen. I’d probably attempt something similar if I felt that strong of a pain somewhere else. Unless the hypothetical mandates that we just sit in one place and can’t try to reduce the pain? Remaining helpless would make the pain worse, for me. I would feel the best by *doing something *about it.

That’s the scenario. And it’s not always hypothetical. In a dentist’s chair you can only ask for so much Novacaine.

I recall Daniel C. Dennet talking about this; he mentioned being able to get partially through a dental procedure without anesthetic by concentrating on the pain; as I understand it, focusing on pain is an old method of blocking it. The theory he used to explain how it works is related to the fact that humans have two systems of pain nerves; an old one that produces the vague, imprecise sensation that hurts*, and another newer one that pinpoints the injury** but doesn’t hurt; since they normally operate in tandem we don’t notice that they are actually two sensations. Supposedly concentrating enough on the details of a pain causes the “precise” sensations to crowd out the “hurts” sensations, as long as you can keep up sufficient concentration. I’ve tried it myself and it seems to help, although that could just be placebo effect naturally.

  • Which is why a small injury is generally surrounded by a large sensation of pain; that older pain network has low resolution.

** Ever stubbed your toe or stepped on a nail, realized you are hurt, then a second or so later you feel pain? That’s the two systems in action; the older system that “hurts” uses slow “c-fibers”; it takes a second or so for the pain signal to travel from your foot to your brain. The more precise pain network is a more recent evolutionary development, and transmits much faster.

Well this comes close to my standard answer when it comes to the pain of childbirth. You have to understand that it’s pain with a purpose, and that there is a goal in mind and your body is working to achieve that goal. It’s painful, boy howdy is it (some much more than others). But understanding why it hurts goes a long way toward being able to endure it.

I wish I could say I always endured it with grace, but no, I was ready to have it over and done with and I can’t take it any more and … ONE MORE PUSH! That was what I needed and indeed, it was over and done with and I had a brand-new baby. :slight_smile:

Short term pain, I embrace it. Long term, I try and distract myself from it.

ETA: I haven’t had too much long term pain, though. I blissfully respond very well to every type of anesthesia and am allergic to none of them.

It depends on what I’m doing and the time of day.
During the day, at home? I distract myself.
When I’m trying to go to sleep? I embrace/float in it.

Every once in a while I have an attack of menstrual cramps. If it is happening as I’m trying to go to sleep, I kind of focus on it and shut everything else out. It sounds line of weird. Yes, it still hurts, but it’s now an expected sensation. It’s not jumping out at me. I guess it’s like the difference between constant noise and a single loud noise in an otherwise quiet night. Anyway, it lets me get to sleep.

Very short term pain (such as at the dentist) I embrace - or at least pay attention to it and note the sensation in a detatched sort of way. That helps, it seems, to enable me to distance myself from the unpleasantness. I also whimper and beg for more novocaine, though. :smiley:

Along with occasional acute muscle injuries, I have low-level chronic pain from two ruptured disks, since about the mid 1990s. That, I ignore as much as possible and carry on as usual. Not much I can do about it anyway, and no point focusing on it.

Very short term, I distract myself. Longer term, I guess “embrace” is the answer, though the longest/worst pain I’ve ever been in left me writhing and helpless to do anything but wonder why the hell I wasn’t passing out (transition labor, back labor, stuck baby, no drugs).

The dental part *is *hypothetical for me. I’ve never had a painful dental procedure. I would probably run screaming from the building unless they put me under… so if I ever need to get a tooth pulled or a cavity filled, they’re going to have to laughing gas me.

For painful shots and stuff, I just try to read something and pretend it’s not happening. If I look, it makes it hurt more (because of the anticipation).

I embrace, accept, and move on from the pain. I can’t really explain how I do it, but I’ve used this technique to deal with everything from a broken tooth to the recovery pains of a surgery.

The only time it hasn’t worked for me is when my appendix ruptured.

Some pain can be ignored but I find that sometimes it helps to think about the pain until it just becomes a sensation. To me the more severe the pain the less it can be tuned out and the more helpful it is to concentrate on it.

Definitely distract. Fortunately I’m easily distracted, and now that I own the complete Law & Order series on DVD, I may never feel pain again. (For many years, I had a dentist who allowed me to bring in DVDs to watch during procedures. I spent many hours blissed out on Law & Order and barely noticing the root canal, etc.)

Absolutely. I fight it. I treat it like an enemy, and grapple with it. I use visualization tools to oppose it, actively, within my mind. For instance, I might visualize the pain as being all concentrated in a punching bag, with me smacking at it with my fists. It’s just an imaginary thing; my real fists aren’t punching. (But I probably do have my hands knotted up into fists.)

Another image is of the pain as a wall, and my job is to break through it. The idea is that relief is “there,” somewhere, if I can get to it.

Oddly…I’ve never liked taking pain-killers. It doesn’t “seem right” to me, somehow. I have a fear that, if I don’t feel the pain, I’m at more risk of continuing whatever activity brought it on. Say I’m on a long hike, and my hips and knees start to hurt: it seems to me that taking Ibuprofen would put me at risk of doing more harm to my joints by continuing to walk on them, rather than acknowledging the pain and stopping for a rest!