It is an easy concept. We do it everyday, right? For someone who lives with chronic pain or someone who is a loved one or care-giver, this simple action can be a powerful ally toward thriving.
Breathing can be done shallowly or deeply. The difference can make a world of difference! Living with chronic pain changes your body and mind. Our body’s defense mechanisms to pain that make sense in an emergency situation, over time can have a toll on our bodies and mind. One of these mechanisms is hold your breath or to breathe shallowly.
Research has shown that chronic pain changes the nerves and the brain. Our natural physical responses to pain can create a chronic condition because it gets stuck in a positive feedback loop i.e. information that increases the condition in an downward spiral. This makes chronic pain and chronic stress very difficult to treat. In order to interrupt this, there are three powerful skills that you can develop; breathe deeply, engage your body’s wisdom, and be mindful.
Day-by-day through practice, we can take our lives back. Depending on your situation it can also help to change your experience of pain. It is not easy to move through the process, especially alone. In order to be successful we need support from our environment, others, and ourselves.
What to do:
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is an important skill. (If you have the use of your diaphragm, you can learn to do it. If you have rib issues, you might want to talk with your physician or physical therapist to see what you might need to modify.)
First Step: Find your diaphragm and breathe deeply. Notice your belly and your chest as you breathe in and then slowly breathe out. (If you have done this before and know that your belly expands and then your chest rises as you breathe in deeply, you can skip step two.
Second Step: Lay down on your back if comfortable otherwise you can do this while sitting. Put your hand (or a light book) on your belly and one on your upper chest. Breathe out and then as you breathe in expand your belly and watch the book or hand rise, as you keep breathing in, your chest should also then rise—but your belly is still expanded. As you breathe out, feel them sink and at the end of the breath tighten your belly muscles. This should make you want to take another breath. Do this slowly and deeply 3-5 times until you can feel for sure the difference between a diaphragmatic breath and a normal shallow or belly clenched breath.
Third Step: Do this kind of breathing in whatever positions you find your self in during the day such as driving, sitting, standing, laying down. Make sure that you know the difference of deep diaphragmatic and regularly breathing. Use your hands on your belly and consciously lift it with your belly as you breathe. This can help to strengthen this skill.
Fourth Step: Put up reminders to do it 3 – 5 times a day. Put an alarm in your phone, post its on your mirror, tape it on your remote . . . where ever you will run into it.
Fifth Step: When you notice your emotions going negative, you feel a surge in your pain, or when you hear self dialogue that you want to turn around. Use this technique. Do at least 2-3 breaths.
It really is the breath of life. As you take your life back, take your breath back too! It gives you access to the relaxation response that interrupts the stress, it brings oxygen to your brain and your body, it bring nutrients to your cells so they can heal. Remember to Breathe!