How To Overcome Pain & Leverage Stress — According To Science

 15 years ago, Jane Christensen, renowned herbalist and health practitioner, crashed hard while water skiing. Despite being an avid runner and marathoner, the skiing injury ended her running career.

She was told by her doctors she’d never run again.

Throughout the years, she’s tried to run even short distances. But to no avail. The pain quickly arises, completely stopping her in her tracks.

But recently, she learned something that changed all this. After making a mental — not a physical — tweak, she can run again, pain-free.

The Great Pain Deception

We all know people who experience perpetual pain — whether it be back pain, headaches, neck pain, or something else. Either bad genetics or a permanent injury has been their unfortunate lot in life.

But what if in most cases, a person’s body and behavior actually have little or nothing to do with their prolonged pain?

According to Dr. John E. Sarno, prominent professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University School of Medicine and the author of the NYT Best-selling book, Healing Back Pain: The Mindbody Connection, there are many myths perpetuated by the medical system that keep people suffering. Foremost among these myths is that the body is the primary problem in healing.

However, In his book, The Great Pain Deception, Stephen Ozanich, explains:

“Pain and other chronic symptoms are physical manifestations of unresolved internal conflict.

Symptoms surface as the instinctual mechanism for self-survival. They are messages from the inner self wanting to be heard, but ego takes center-stage, and hides the truth within the shadows of the unconscious mind: which is the body.”

The perpetual pain you continue to feel is the physical symptom of a mental problem.

Pain, it turns out, is a crater in the mind. An excruciating memory that can’t be let go of; and continues to be lived out in the here-and-now.

The truth, in most cases, is that the body is completely fine and healed. Indeed, our bodies are miraculous machines with innate power of self-renewal and healing.

But the mind won’t let it be fine.

Our beliefs about our pain ripple into a self-fulfilling prophecy, attracting the very problems we seek to avoid. Eventually, we evolve into a helpless and broken person.

Pain & Stress, Self-Fulfilling Prophecies, & Evolution

Similar to pain, how you feel about your stress is more important than the stress itself.

In her famous TED talk, Kelly McGonigal, Stanford psychology professor and author of the NYT Best-selling books, The Upside of Stress and The Willpower Instinct, explains that chemically, if you believe stress is a bad thing, it can actually increase your chance of dying!

Yes, the very belief that stress is negative generates — in a self-fulling manner — a number of negative outcomes.

Conversely, according to research done at Harvard, when you believe stress symptoms are your own body preparing you to meet a particular challenge, you’ll be less stressed out, less anxious, and more confident.

Most interestingly, people who perceive stress as a bad thing have a different physical-stress-response than those who perceive stress as helpful. When those who perceive stress as a negative experience stress, their heart-rate increases and their blood vessels constrict, which is one of the reasons chronic stress is related to cardiovascular disease. It’s not healthy to have constricted blood vessels for extended periods of time.

But when people view their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stay relaxed, even while their heart is pounding. Interestingly, this cardiovascular profile is extremely similar to feelings of joy, excitement, and courage. Not only positive feelings, but the very emotions and physical response needed for optimal performance.

We are Systems

Your beliefs and feelings dramatically impact your physical response, your ability to heal, and ultimately the person you become.

According to Dr. Sarno, simply by knowing that perpetuated physical pain is not really a physical thing — but a mind-body thing — people experience healing  — often spontaneously. And that’s what happened to Jane Christensen. She realized her pain was mental, not physical. And she was able to start running again.

While Discussing These Ideas, My Own Pain Went Away

I can personally attest to these concepts. In early 2015, I was training for an ultra-marathon with a friend and got injured during a training run, severely injuring my knee.

After allowing ample time to recover (well over 6 months), I still noticed twinges of knee pain after only a few moments of running.

However, while recently running with my friend, I was discussing these ideas with him — about the fact that pain is really a manifestation of internal conflict.

My friend, Tyler, confidently told me I was recovered from my previous injury, and that I’d be able to get into peak physical shape, even to do a 100-mile ultra-marathon.

My mind relaxed, allowing my focus to divert from my knee. I became confident and saw myself getting healthier and stronger — no longer plagued by knee pain. We ran for hours and I’ve never felt better or stronger.

We are holistic beings.

Conclusion: Radical Self-Efficacy

You’ve heard it before: running a marathon is far more mental than physical.

A person’s ability to run a marathon — or do anything hard — is more a reflection of their level of confidence than their level of competence.

Self-efficacy is the psychological term for one’s belief in their own ability. It is considered one of the most crucial factors in a person’s ability to:

  • achieve their goals
  • the size of goals a person pursues
  • how well a person bounces back from failure
  • and more.

A person’s self-efficacy — or in other words, their confidence in themselves — is perhaps the most important factor in the outcomes of their life.

When you develop radical confidence in yourself, your mind expands. Believing you can run a marathon is more of a stretching of the mind than a stretching of the body. Indeed, mental creation always precedes physical creation.

Your confidence is what determines your pursuits, and your belief in those pursuits.

When you believe you can be healed, and that your stress is an aid to your performance, you are willing to take on bigger challenges.

You are willing to let go of the pain and allow yourself to evolve. You come to embrace challenge and difficulty. Your mind stretches, and so do you.

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To become a butterfly, you must be willing to give up being a caterpillar.