It Hurts More If You Scream?

There are pilot projects and studies being done, right now, on attention and pain. The results aren't all the way in yet, but being distracted during ongoing pain reduces the amount of pain experienced. How this works isn't well understood, but it's not just a trick; there's a physiological thing going on here.

Now, this isn't exactly a shocker to most folks. You go see a sick relative to 'take their mind off it'; and it works.

But this has a few implications in terms of people's internal narrative, as well. If you buy into the ideas of "walking it off" and "toughing it out and getting back to work", then you may also be adopting a strategy that reduces pain in the short term. It can also mean that you'll avoid going to see the doctor in the long term, meaning more damage in the long term. It's quite possible, however much it annoys, that meditation and similar practices are working distraction strategies.

This doesn't necessarily mean that it hurts more if you scream; I haven't been able to find any real work on the relationship between pain expression and pain experience. I suspect that it depends on the expression. If you use your misery as a performance to elicit sympathy, this might also be an effective strategy for diverting your attention from the actual pain. Maybe you know someone that you would happily suspect of doing this; it surely does draw up the mental stereotype of the complaining great-aunt.

All of this together means: Getting your own narrative geared well can help you cope with pain. Tough it out, but go to the doctor. Laid up in bed? Try to engage something you can get lost in, and which you can focus on long enough to stay lost for a while.

Chances are, you can already spot the ways you've done these things.

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