Is This Pain All in My Head?
Have you ever struggled to find an explanation for your pain? Have you seen countless doctors in an attempt to identify the source of your discomfort? Do you ever wonder if your pain is all in your head? These are concerns I hear from many of my patients, including Sarah, a mother of three who has had migraines for the past year whenever her stress level soars, and Marsha, who had a knee replacement years ago but still experiences crippling pain off and on. Like many others, these patients are told that there is no reason for their pain and that their symptoms should not exist.
While there may be no textbook definition to match the symptoms you’re experiencing, your pain is valid. Pain occurs for many reasons, and the cause is not always evident. Underlying physical conditions such as leaky gut, inflammation, or an autoimmune disease are often overlooked or misdiagnosed. Negative emotions like chronic stress, worry, and doubt manifest physically in a variety of ways. Examining the source of this pain can be a daunting journey, but it is one that you must traverse if you wish to embrace your best health. Below, I offer my suggestions for discovering this source and finding true healing.
Why Am I Having This Pain?
In a society where we judge ourselves by our accomplishments, it can be hard to prioritize rest and healing. Many times, our bodies send us subtle messages to slow down. In our rush to do as much as possible, we overlook these messages. Our systems become more taxed, more exhausted, and the messages become louder and louder. Finally, they become so loud that they cannot be ignored. This was the case with Sarah, whose migraines would strike whenever she approached a deadline.
Taking the Time to Listen
My advice for Sarah was to tune into her body each day. By taking just a few minutes to listen to the still, small voice inside, we become aware of the stress, tension, and exhaustion that can be so easy to ignore and push away. Meditation can help us step back from the overwhelming thoughts and feelings, and can grant clarity. For Sarah, devoting just ten minutes each morning helped her start her day off with a clear head, and reminded her to listen to her body and prioritize her health. When she feels her stress mounting, she takes a step back and checks in with herself. She is then able to turn a seemingly impossible deadline into a manageable strategy.
When Emotions Cause Physical Discomfort
Heart to Heart Medical Center was started as an effort to merge superior healthcare with love. In my surgical residency, I was not encouraged to empathize with my patients. It was considered unprofessional to get too involved. While saving lives is certainly important, I found it possible to be clinically alive and still slip away mentally and spiritually. I love Chinese Medicine because it opened the door for me to treat the whole person by including emotional, spiritual, physical and mental components. Chronic problems are not purely physical; there are many layers in the healing process.
Traumatic experiences can have a significant effect on our physical health. This was the case for Marsha, who had a death in the family in the days leading up to her knee replacement. While she recovered from surgery quickly and had full range of motion after rounds of physical therapy, she would have crippling pain every few months. When speaking with her, we discovered together that this pain always seemed to flare up around a holiday. It also got significantly worse when she thought about her family’s loss. Bringing this connection to the light of day allowed her to process the feelings she had repressed, and come to terms with her sense of grief.
If you have unexplained pain, take some time to reflect on when the discomfort first began. Lean on supportive family members, friends, and your healthcare team to help you work through these emotions. You may discover that your pain has disappeared.
Learning to Live With the Pain
If you’ve lived with unexplained pain for some time, it can be difficult to believe that you will ever feel better. On one hand, when you’ve had pain for a long time, you need to surrender to the possibility that it may not change. On the other hand, you don’t want to give up hope. This feeds the negative emotions and sends your stress level through the roof. If you’re feeling discouraged, don’t lose hope! I believe in healing – that it’s possible to find a solution that will bring you answers. Learn to listen to your body, look inward, and partner with practitioners who treat you with love and understanding.