The four points of balance are applicable to any situation in life, including chronic pain. In order for you to successfully practice pain recovery, you need to be off medications or working toward getting off of them. The next four chapters will go into detail on each point; for now, we will give a brief overview of balance in each of the four points. We will also ask you to identify patterns you learned early in life which may be affecting your current state of balance. 1 . Physical Balance Physical balance requires you to be mindful and respectful of your body, which includes paying attention to the messages it sends to your brain. You evaluate the state of your body thoroughly and continually, without becoming preoccupied. “How am I feeling? If there is pain, where is it coming from and how bad is it? What action that has worked in the past might I take to modify it—stretch, change position, get up and move, breathe, listen to soothing music, talk to someone (reach out), or share with someone who is hurting worse (give back)?” With physical balance, you have an organized series of maintenance and crisis interventions. For example, a good maintenance regimen that keeps your pain tolerable consists of regular exercise, meditation, getting massages, stretching, and chiropractic, in addition to taking balancing actions we will describe in upcoming chapters. Crisis intervention is used to counteract a painful flare-up. If you slept wrong and your back is really throbbing or you twisted your shoulder while lifting something heavy or it is raining and cold, causing your joints to ache—these can cause an acute worsening of your usual painful state and need to be addressed without medication for you to stay in balance. Here are some common characteristics of a balanced physical experience:
- Eating nutritious foods
- Avoiding toxins
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Practicing relaxation
2 . Mental Balance With mental balance, you challenge the assumptions you have about your pain. Your pain is neither the worst that ever happened nor is it insignificant. It is not a punishment; it is simply an occurrence in the course of life that has various challenging ripple effects. Balanced thinking results in creating a realistic set of goals and focusing energy and effort into making progress toward achieving each one. This leads to improvement of pain, decreased suffering, and increased function, empowering you to set new goals and work toward achieving them. With mental balance, pain recovery is based not on blind faith but on well-thought-out, realistic expectations and progressive success achieved by applying the tools you learn from this book, and paying attention to this progress. You actively and patiently change your thought patterns, knowing it happens neither easily nor quickly. However, your thoughts remain consistent in the belief that if you apply the techniques and practice the skills learned in pain recovery, your thinking will stay balanced. You understand that the most effective way to acquire new skills or, for that matter, to get better at anything, be it sports, cooking, auto repair, gardening, or pain recovery, is to: 1) Learn the techniques that work, and 2) Practice them relentlessly. Here are some common characteristics of a balanced mental experience:
- Keeping a positive attitude.
- Paying attention to and challenging your thoughts.
- Setting achievable goals.
- Being open-minded and willing to try new things.
- Having realistic hope.
3. Emotional Balance With emotional balance, you accept your emotions and know that it’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling. You are more independent from the opinions and beliefs of others and pay closer attention to your inner voice. First, you need to identify your feelings and recognize that your feelings are a major part of you. Noticing and accepting your feelings is therefore a major part of self-acceptance. This does not mean you wish to stay as you are, but when you first see and accept who you are in the present moment, it allows you to make positive changes in your life. Accepting your feelings takes less energy than trying to deny or suppress them. Also, accepting your feelings sometimes helps prevent them from recurring over and over and enables you to change them. Finally, fully accepting your feelings allows you to shift your energy to productive thoughts or actions. With emotional balance you feel your full emotional experience, recognizing that all feelings are part of you—you don’t need to avoid any of them. You accept your feelings without labeling them good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. You resolve old issues that you have avoided for one reason or another and work to heal and release your connection to the past, allowing yourself to be free to live in the moment. You are able to feel emotions for each circumstance that shows up in your life without troublesome attachment to old feelings. Here are some common characteristics of a balanced emotional experience:
- Understanding feelings are neither good nor bad (not judging feelings).
- Seeing that simply experiencing emotions will not hurt you; in fact, not feeling emotions makes you hurt worse.
- Knowing that feeling results in healing, and avoidance results in Ongoing suffering.
- Knowing that balanced thoughts create balanced emotions.
4 . Spiritual Balance With spiritual balance you are connected to the way you think and feel, and how you take care of your body. When balanced, your spirituality enhances your life. You do positive things that make you feel good, and you help others. You are in harmony with the world and those in it. Whatever life brings, you are able to deal with it and know you are okay. You are able to find meaning and purpose even in situations that are painful and not to your liking. You live in and accept each day as it comes, changing yourself instead of trying to change others. Here are some common characteristics of a balanced spiritual experience:
- Accepting who you are and your place in the world.
- Having a sense of purpose and meaning.
- Being open to challenging your beliefs.
- Drawing on a source of inner and outer strength.
- Having values, beliefs, standards, and ethics that you embrace.
- Being aware and appreciative of a “transcendent dimension” to life beyond s self.
- Having increased awareness of a connection with self, others, God/Spirit/Divine, and nature through regular spiritual practice.
This blog post is an excerpt from Pain Recovery – How to Find Balance and Reduce Suffering from Chronic Pain by Mel Pohl, MD, FASAM, Frank Szabo, LADC, Daniel Shiode, PhD, Robert Hunter, PhD; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).