Pain: it’s all the same to your brain

Have you ever received bad news that was like a punch in the gut?

Have you ever lived through an experience that broke your heart?

What about a story that made you sick to your stomach?

Did you know that your brain registers any type of pain the same way it registers physical pain?  The line between physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual is not only blurry, neuroscientists are beginning to doubt such compartmentalizing makes any sense at all.  Think about it:  What is your brain, but a physical organ, like your heart, say.  What are your thoughts, but physical electric impulses firing between physical synapses and dendrites initiated by physical release of hormones?  The debate, of course, rages on about the existence of our soul, and free will, and our accountability for actions our brain made us do.  But let’s stick for now with this very simple concept:  When it comes to pain, it’s all the same to your brain.

What does that mean?  Well, you know how you put ice on a sprained ankle and stay off it for a few days to let it heal?  When you catch a stomach bug you drink tea and eat toast?  When it’s the flu, you stay in bed; when it’s a cold, you  might stay in bed, but you definitely carry tissues everywhere with you and hydrate well.  Why aren’t we treating spiritual, emotional, and mental pain the same way?

Some folk have gone so far as to say “Take an aspirin if your heart is broken.”  I don’t know about that, but I do know that just because an injury isn’t visible doesn’t mean it isn’t real and doesn’t deserve the same TLC as say, a broken leg.  When your heart gets broken, or you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut, when you realize those actors who crumple to the ground when they hear a loved one has died aren’t being overly dramatic – that is instead a normal response – Consider the next steps.  Our bodies often take in bad news faster than our minds.  And we need to be gentle with ourselves.  

I’m not suggesting you pull the covers over your head and you retreat from the world for days on end.  And this isn’t guidance for the every day disappointments.  But when you’ve just heard the cancer diagnosis, or your loved one has died, or a serious relationship ended, or any of the other ways we human beings get our hearts broken, a day or two treating yourself the way you would if you have the flu makes perfect sense.  You would not expect yourself to run a marathon, keep every appointment, make a huge presentation, and cook dinner and do the laundry if you had the flu.  (And if you do, then there’s a whole host of other conversations we need to have.)  

It’s been a season of bad news in my life – Every time I get on my feet again, boom – knock me over, make it hard to breath, bad news comes along.  I can feel a day huddled under my covers with hot drinks and good books coming on.  And that is entirely appropriate.  For you, too.   Of course, as long as we don’t stay there!  Consider all pain the same.  Your body does.  And take good care.  Your body – heart, mind, soul, brain, emotions, all of you – is depending on it.



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