How To Deal With Physical Pain

The real test of body awareness comes when you have to deal with physical pain. This can be from a direct physical injury or a mentally stressful event. As you know, your mental stress is expressed physically.

When there is pain in the body bring your attention to the area of muscular tension.

You have previously learned how slow, deep, smooth, belly breathing, with a prolonged exhalation lessens stress. If you can direct the breath, like a laser, into the area of pain, this will allow that area to relax and feedback to create additional mental relaxation. This will lessen your pain. Continue to breathe into the area for as long as there is pain. The breath is a wonderful tool for dealing with discomfort.

When you encounter pain you often create a story about it. Remember when my patient Mika was having abdominal cramps and she believed that she had cancer? You might have a headache and worry that it’s a brain tumor. If you’re having chest pain, it’s hard to believe it could be anything but a heart attack even when you’ve been given the all clear and you know your heart is fine. You probably experience more pain from the anxiety around the story you tell yourself than from the original physical pain.

Bringing awareness to the story can help to lessen the secondary mental pain that accompanies the actual physical discomfort. As you’ll learn in the next section, identifying the process of original sensation to subsequent story can help take you out of the storyline and lessen the stressful drama that you create in your mind.

It can be helpful in these situations to take a reality check. As you bring awareness to the story your mind is telling, step back and inquire about the truth of what your mind is saying. For example you may say to yourself, “Do I really have colon cancer? How do I know this? Maybe I need to see my doctor about this. Until then I just don’t know what’s happening. However it doesn’t mean that it’s bad.”

When you experience a physical discomfort you often put a label on it such as “this horrible pain!” It can be helpful to step out of the concept of pain and bring mindfulness to the situation. Try to experience the “pain” as the changing physical sensation that it really is. Observe it and create some distance between you and it. What does it really feel like? Is it a stinging, sharp, vibrating, hot, or heavy sensation? As you bring your continual attention to the area, the sensation of pain will start to change, perhaps lessen and ultimately your mind will be drawn elsewhere.


  1. 1. Initially, a formal practice of the Body Scan and Progressive Muscle Relaxation, where you set aside a daily designated time to practice body awareness, will help you to train yourself to become aware of muscle tension as it reflects your mental state. Regular practice of body awareness through these exercises will also lead to physical and mental relaxation.
  2. Support your practice on a daily basis by using environmental cues, Post-it notes, and a phone or watch alarm, as you did in the breath awareness exercises, to remind you to become aware of what tension is present in the body at designated times.
  3. Do quick versions of the body awareness exercises when you don’t have time for a longer session. Every bit helps. Do the Body Scan and Progressive Muscle Relaxation before and after events that you know will be stressful.


  • When you’re emotionally upset, this is reflected in your body. If you relax your body, your mind relaxes and vice versa.
  • Thoughts lead to emotional reactions, which in turn produce physical sensations and responses. Understanding thoughts and emotions as a physical experience may be the most direct and easiest way for you to recognize your various states of mind.
  • You can use your breathing to specifically relax parts of the body by bringing your attention to an area of tension and focusing your breathing into that area.
  • The next time you’re mentally or emotionally upset, consciously focus your attention on your body and its sensations, instead of the storyline in your mind that’s dwelling on how upset you are.
  • The Body Scan and Progressive Muscle Relaxation are two important techniques that will improve your body awareness.
  • The Body Scan makes you aware of the sensations in your body.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation teaches you to identify the difference between a muscle that’s contracted and one that’s at rest.
  • When in pain, direct your breathing into the area that’s bothering you. This will allow that area to relax, which will have a calming effect and lessen your discomfort.
  • Try not to create a story about your pain. Recognize that your worries about the pain are likely unfounded. Mindfully try to experience the pain as simply a changing physical sensation instead of labeling it as a “horrible pain.”
  • Mental stress is expressed in the body. A relaxed body leads to a calmer mind.