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Nobody likes pain. Whether it’s physical or emotional pain, we do our best to avoid it. While our fear of pain may have been a useful survival mechanism for our ancestors, today it serves no purpose. All it does is cause us unnecessary anxiety. Thankfully, we can learn to conquer, or at least diminish, this fear.
My relationship with pain (or avoidance of)
Don’t we all dread a trip to the doctor? Getting poked and prodded and pressed?
I, however, took pain avoidance to a whole new level.
Once, my dad’s friend told me how, during a softball game, a mis-thrown ball whacked his head and ruptured his eardrum. After that, I took every precaution at Little League practice, running the bases with my head ducked and hands covering my ears for extra protection.
As an adult, this tendency lingered. While descending steep hiking trails, I’d tentatively make by way down inch by inch, arms flailing, rather than risking a face plant (annoying my boyfriend to no end).
I decided I needed to get over this and joined a women’s kickboxing class. It was awesome—but because we were hitting punching bags and not each other, it did little to help me get over the pain hurdle.
Slapping back at my fears
Then I attended a class called Witch Kung Fu, hosted by Maja D’Aoust, an occult lecturer known as the White Witch of LA. The flyer mentioned, “You will get slapped,” which triggered slight anxiety. No one likes to be slapped!
As it turns out, the slapping was invigorating. Even — dare I say — fun!
Using Qigong techniques, the class taught women how to take hits and prepare themselves for uncomfortable physical contact.
A Qigong routine begins with a series of self-inflicted slaps, beginning on the crown of the head and working down your body. Used in Chinese medicine, it has many benefits such as increased circulation and clearing out negative mental energy. If you’re feeling lethargic, it’s also a great pick-me-up!
Here’s what I learned.
3 Realizations That Will Diminish Your Fear of Pain
1) Pain is inevitable
Instead of wasting your energy trying to avoid it, get prepared.
At least with the doctor, we get a warning before he sticks in the needle. But in real life, pain can strike out of nowhere.
Playing a game of cat and mouse with pain, then, is an exercise in futility. Conversely, if you train your body to take the pain, you’re better equipped to handle it.
Qigong works to prepare your body for contact, toughening your skin so that slaps and punches lack the sting they normally would.
2) In a relaxed state, pain is easier to endure
Has the doctor ever told you, “Just relax?” Easier said than done, right?
Truth is, relaxing eases the tension in your body, which in turn reduces pain. It also relieves anxiety, leading to a calmer mental state.
Rather than viewing the impending pain as a big, scary cloud ballooning on the horizon, you can take it like a whispering wind in stride.
Qigong uses breathing techniques to prep yourself, timing your exhales so you can take a blow to the gut or a punch in the back with more stoicism that you would under ordinary circumstances.
3) Pain management is a masterable skill just like anything else
After getting slapped in the face, my immediate reaction was, “Wow, that wasn’t so bad.” And the more frequently you get slapped, the less it stings.
That’s why practicing Qigong every day will build up your tolerance to pain, physical or otherwise.
A rejection or an outburst of anger from another can feel like a slap in the face. And just like a slap, it can leave a mark.
The mark, however, is not a permanent one. In time it fades, and life goes on.
That’s why it’s best to address those conversations you’ve been avoiding, because they in all likelihood won’t be as dramatic as you’ve built them up to be. On the other hand, the longer you put them off, the more they become tangled up with unpleasant — dare I say, painful — emotions like anxiety.
What about serious injury or trauma, though? Life-altering events that require hospitalization or cause lasting emotional distress?
There’s no easy answer, but the more we toughen our internal and external leather, so to speak, the easier it will be to endure the arrows life slings at us.
What I learned that day is that while we can’t always control what happens to us, we CAN control our response. Pain can hurt on the outside and the inside, but it can’t penetrate the deepest parts of us, those parts that define who we are.
What painful situations (physical or emotional) scare you the most? What steps will you take to confront your fear?