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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

July 14, 2021, Rudo-Stern, Jenna, PhD
Ways to Increase Comfort and Calm
Training Your Brain for Pain

Chances are you have felt pain at some point - burned your mouth, pinched your fingers in a drawer, sprained your ankle. Thank goodness you felt pain! Pain makes you hurt so you won't do further harm.

Chances are you have also felt scared, nervous, or worried. Thank goodness! Those feelings are necessary. It's important to be cautious to keep from doing something really dangerous. Thank your brain for picking up on those pain signals and keeping you from doing something too risky.

Ah, but does your brain sound the alarm when it's time for an injection, a blood draw, or an invasive procedure? That's where things get tricky. Your brain is so focused on keeping you safe that it goes into (false) alarm mode, even for things that are important for your health.

The good news is you can help your brain turn down the volume on those false alarms.

When our brain thinks there's some kind of threat, it activates something called the sympathetic nervous system. Our hearts race, our muscles tense, our breathing gets fast. The good news is we can slow our breathing and relax our muscles and use our minds to let our brain and our body know there is no threat here.

Using your breath to bring comfort and calm:

Take slow, deep breaths into your belly and keep the muscles in your back, chest, and belly loose. It may help to imagine your spine is a straw and you are breathing air back and all the way down through your spine to your tail bone. If you are lying on your back, you might put something lightweight on your belly and watch it rise and fall with your breath.

Tensing and relaxing your muscles to bring comfort and calm:

By tensing a muscle, you bring your attention to the muscle and make it a little tired. You can then release the tension and take a few deep breaths, increasing a sense of relaxation with each breath out. Try tensing for a count of five and then releasing for a count of ten. You can make your way through your whole body, one small muscle group at a time. This is known as “progressive muscle relaxation” and there are many audio guides online that can help you to learn and practice the technique.

Using your imagination to bring comfort and calm:

Think of a place where you feel comfortable. You might close your eyes and picture yourself in this place. Notice the feel of the air on your skin, or a familiar and comforting scent. In your mind’s eye, you can look around. You might hear something that brings a smile. You can go to this place in your mind any time to find comfort. It is there for you all the time.

Looking to others to bring comfort and calm:

Often, we find comfort in the company of people who care about us. You might bring a parent or sibling or friend with you to a medical appointment and have them talk with you or hold your hand or gently touch your shoulder or whatever else helps you to feel more at ease.

These are just a few examples of things you might do to increase your comfort and confidence with procedures and pokes. For more ideas of how to help yourself feel comfort and calm, consider watching this video. You can decide ahead of time what you want to do to bring yourself comfort and calm and then share your plan with your medical providers. You might complete this Game Plan and bring a copy with you to your medical visit. It’s your body and your brain – you are in charge.

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