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Distract Your Brain Away From The Pain - 11 Tips To Make You Feel Better

By consciously taking your attention away from your pain and putting it elsewhere you can lower it's intensity and hold over you.

When you are suffering from persistent back pain it can be all you think about.

As the constant throbbing and aches take over your body and mind, leaving you feeling angry, frustrated, and broken.

However, did you know that by allowing your pain to get inside your head like this you are just increasing it's power?

And that distracting your brain away from the pain can actually take it's power away?

This is because our brain and nervous system can only take in a limited amount of information at any one time.

So to avoid becoming overwhelmed they filter information and only take in the information they see as being the most important at that moment.

And unfortunately for us pain signals are usually at the front of this queue for their attention.

However, if you give your brain something else to focus on instead you can move your attention away from the pain.

Because when you are absorbed in another activity your brain doesn't have the capacity to listen to the pain signals as well.

Which results in you feeling less pain and in some cases can even help you to forget about your pain completely.

This was shown in a study in Hamburg that found that participants felt less pain when strong heat was applied to their arms if they were simultaneously concentrating on another task.

So a big part of any good pain management routine is to engage in activities that distract you away from pain and give you temporary relief.

And the following suggestions can all help you to do this.

1. Focus On Your Breathing

Focusing on your breathing is a great way of centering yourself and bringing your attention back to the present moment.

As by actively concentrating on your breathing you are keeping your brain occupied and keeping the door closed to any pain signals that are trying to get in.

So if you are feeling uncomfortable and in pain try to sit down and practice some deep breathing exercises such as the following:

  • Belly breathing - Consciously breathing deeply into your abdomen rather than your chest.
  • Equal breathing - Inhaling and exhaling for the same period of time (4, 6 or 8 seconds).
  • Square breathing - Inhaling for a count of 4 seconds, holding your breath for 4 seconds, exhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 4 seconds.
  • 4-7-8 breathing - Inhaling for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, exhaling for 8 seconds (see video above).

Doing this for 10-15 minutes will help to distract your brain away from pain.

And the added bonus is that the increase of oxygen will calm your nervous system and relax your mind and body.

Which will also help to alleviate your pain.

2. Meditate

Meditation also involves a focus on breathing and bringing your attention back to the present moment.

And it can be a great help for people with persistent back pain.

For instance, one study in Seattle found that patients with chronic lower back pain that practiced mindfulness meditation for 2 hours per week had less pain after 6 months than those that had undergone standard care during this time.

And this drop in pain remained for as long as a year afterwards.

So meditation is a great way of relieving pain.

As by meditating you can distance yourself from the sensations of pain in your body by:

  • Observing and accepting the sensations of pain but choosing not to engage with them.
  • Moving your focus away from the pain you are experiencing and towards happier and calmer thoughts instead.

And as with deep breathing this will also relax you and calm your nervous system as well.

So if you want to find a way to move your minds focus away from your pain and block those pain signals from getting through, have a go at meditating.

You can do this at home via videos like the one above or by joining a meditation class where you'll be guided through it by an experienced teacher.

And this comes with the added benefit of making you calmer and more able to manage your pain too.

3. Get Into A Flow State

Another good way to distract your mind away from back pain is to absorb yourself in a hobby or activity that puts you into a flow state.

As getting into a flow state is so powerful because it:

  • Takes your mind off the pain and any negative thoughts you may be having about that pain.
  • Makes you so absorbed in what you're doing that pain signals don't get a look in.
  • Encourages the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine into your system, which improves your mood and activates the reward center of your brain. 
  • While the repetitive motions that come from engaging in craft-type hobbies are therapeutic and help to calm your nervous system.

So try and find yourself a hobby or activity that you enjoy and can lose yourself in for a couple of hours at a time.

This can be anything such as playing an instrument, gardening, painting, fishing, learning a new language, or even knitting like in the video above.

As not only will this distract your brain away from the pain and lessen it's intensity.

It'll also make you feel great in the process.

4. Watch A Scary Movie

Getting lost in a good movie or TV show is a good distraction technique.

So don't beat yourself up too much for the occasional movie night or Netflix binge.

However, studies have shown that looking at something scary or shocking is better at distracting the mind away from pain than something nice and pleasant.

So ditch the rom coms and work your way through those horror movies that you've always been too frightened to watch before instead.

And give yourself something else to worry about rather than your pain!

5. Do Something That Makes You Laugh

It's often said that laughter is the best medicine.

And it has been found to reduce pain levels in people with chronic pain in many studies.

So try to engage in activities and do things that will make you laugh.

This could be watching comedy shows, funny movies, or hanging out with a hilarious friend.

And there are a wealth of videos on YouTube that will have you cracking up at the misfortune of others if that's your thing!

Another idea is to go and watch some live comedy.

Because being in an audience that are all laughing can actually increase the positive effect that laughter has on your pain.

As social laughter has been shown to open up neurochemical pathways and trigger the release of opioids that help to relieve pain.

So while pain is no laughing matter, having a good giggle can distract you from it and help to bring you some relief.

6. Spend Time With Your Friends

Chronic pain can be an isolating illness and this can make you want to be alone more than is healthy for you.

Because when you're alone you have too much time on your hands to think about things and focus on your pain.

So make sure you get out and socialise with your friends on a regular basis as this is the perfect distraction.

And being around the people you love also releases happy hormones that make you feel fantastic.

While the physical contact you get from your friends and family, such as hugs or handshakes, releases oxytocin in your brain which also improves your mood.

So you'll be having such a good time that you won't give your pain a second thought.

Just don't make the mistake of talking about your pain while you're out socialising, as this will bring it back to the forefront of your mind.

7. Go For a Walk

Going for a walk is a great distraction from pain for a couple of reasons.

Firstly it will get you out into the fresh air, and being around nature will improve your mood and increase the positive emotions you experience.

While the actual exercise will get your body moving and has been shown to reduce pain levels in people with chronic lower back pain.

So if you want to take your mind off the pain there aren't many better ideas than going for a walk.

You can even ask a friend to go along with you so you also get the social benefits too.

And to completely distract your mind away from any pain signals, try to walk mindfully.

This means being present in the moment and taking in all the sights and sounds around you.

So look at the colours of the leaves in the trees, listen to the birds singing, and feel the sensation of the wind on your face.

As by doing this you will be absorbed in the world around you and not focused in any way on any pain elsewhere.

8. Exercise Or Play Sports

Exercise to distract your mind away from pain

Exercising and staying active are among the best things you can do to get rid of your persistent back pain.

As this keeps you flexible, relieves pressure on your back, improves your posture, and increases circulation among other things.

And exercising or participating in sports is also a great way of distracting yourself from your pain.

As you will be so fully focused on the game and trying to do your best that the pain will fade away.

I've even injured myself during football matches in the past and not realised it until the game is over.

As the pain just couldn't get through the intense focus and rush of adrenaline that comes with playing sport until I'd stopped.

So make sure you exercise regularly and if you can get involved in some competitive sports.

As this will keep your back strong, healthy, and supported and greatly reduce your pain levels.

And you'll also get a burst of endorphins that will fight your pain for you and put you in a positive frame of mind to be able to handle anything that comes your way.

9. Read A Book

distract your brain away from pain

If you are someone that loves to read then getting lost in a good book will be the perfect way for you to forget all about your pain for a couple of hours.

As you are transported into another world far removed from the feelings of pain that are trying to gatecrash your thoughts.

And reading is also a great way to relax and let go of any stress and tension you may be holding in your body.

As well as being found in studies to improve your overall health and well-being.

So make yourself a nice cup of tea, sit down in your favourite chair, and distract yourself with a great book.

10. Play Video Games

If you are an avid gamer then I'm sure you already now how easy it is to get so lost in a game that hours seem to disappear in the blink of an eye.

And it's this ability to become totally absorbed in the action that make gaming such an effective distraction technique.

As the last thing you'll think about on a World of Warcraft mission is the pain in your back.

And playing video games will also release endorphins, which are the body's natural painkiller.

Plus if you play games online they can be a social experience too, as you communicate and play with people from all over the world.

So it's a win-win!

Just make sure you take a break and get up out of your chair for 5 minutes every hour or so, because prolonged periods of sitting can make your back pain worse.

And using a gaming chair that has good lumbar support can also help to keep your back healthy and pain-free as you play.

11. Listen To Music

Listening to your favourite music is a great way of transporting yourself to a happier place.

And it can also be a way of taking your mind off any pain you may be experiencing.

As studies have found that listening to music can help people with chronic pain to reduce the level of pain they are experiencing as:

  • Listening to soothing music can slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, reduce the amount of stress hormones within your body, and calm your nervous system.
  • It also absorbs your attention to the point where it distracts your brain away from the pain signals that your body is trying to send its way.

So put your headphones, fire up one of your Spotify playlists, and drift away from those pain sensations.

And if you want to make this distraction technique even more powerful, make sure you listen actively to the music.

This can mean certain things such as focusing on the lyrics, picking out the individual instruments, counting the beat, or trying to work out the chords.

As by focusing completely on the music in this way you are leaving no space for any pain signals to enter your brain. 

Rounding Up

Distraction can be a really powerful tool to have in your armory when you are fighting against persistent back pain.

Because by distracting your brain away from your pain you can lower it's intensity and hold over you.

And by doing this you will also be able to relax more, stay active, and live a much happier life that will naturally result in less back pain in the future.

So go through the list of suggestions here and try out a few that appeal to you.

And stop listening to those pain signals that are only going to cause you harm.


Resources used in researching this article:

https://blog.mindvalley.com/meditation-for-pain/

https://countingmyspoons.com/2018/08/distraction-pain-reliever-10-ways-distract-pain/

https://www.apexmedicalcenter.com/blog/pain-management-healthy-distractions

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Daniel

I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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