The Mental Bad Habits That Accompany Pain

Can you believe 45% of Americans experience pain on a regular basis? We as humans are creating habits, some good and some bad, on a regular basis. Eventually these become the routines we perform on a daily occurrence. The majority of habits have become unconscious, and the motives behind them are often forgotten. Many of us are running on old programming, and old scripts that we have long outgrown.

Often these routines accompanied a certain environment or period in time. For example, students regularly woke up before 7am in order to get to school. However, some students adapted to a different schedule when school was over, and some didn’t. The original reason for the habit becomes invisible. This is often the case with injuries. During the rehabilitative state it is common to develop defense mechanisms to avoid re-injuring the area. These self-defense mechanisms can become ingrained in the posture, movement, and behavior of the individual. Eventually it becomes the way things are done unconsciously and out of habit, even when no longer serving a viable purpose.

Those with chronic pain will often develop bad habits that temporarily alleviate pain. This could mean drug abuse, postural changes, lowering physical activity, changing movement patterns, and many other things, including fantasizing about the pain-free days.

Humans react to pain instinctively by rounding the spine and shoulders and crossing the arms around the body in protection. The pelvis dips forward and the knees come together. The head comes forward and teeth start to clench.

These changes can affect the biomechanics of the body, and cause overcompensation of certain muscles. The brain chemistry can change due to these changes in posture. Since the body and brain provide a feedback loop, this posture can actually reinforce the brain to believe it is experiencing pain and create an incessant focus on it.

Overcoming Bad Mental Habits

The brain is built with neural networks, similar to the highways on a map that can become ingrained by the thoughts you have. This is what makes up the majority of your unconscious “personality” since we often don’t think much about who we are. In this reasoning, bad habits actually become circuits your brain runs to more often the longer they are used. However, the good news is that enforcing positive new habits works the same way. The chemical myelin, which acts as a conductor, solidifies these neural networks the more they are used. Initially the change will be hard to make as making physical alterations in the brain can be difficult but it becomes easier over time.

In order to change these bad habits to good, it helps to focus on the behaviors you want. Do not try to resist the old from happening because it is ingrained, and nearly impossible to simply halt. Instead, create a connection to the two. This is a common solution to obsessive-compulsive disorder. When an intrusive thought enters the mind, such as “clean the dishes or the germs will take over your kitchen”, the individual is encouraged to then think of something productive to do instead. This might be “I already cleaned the kitchen once, I don’t need to clean it again, I will continue what I am doing”, or to refocus on the moment. In our fitness related example, when you think of “I’m so tired after work”, immediately turn to “I feel so good after my workouts.” Pre-plan these thoughts ahead of time. Aim for thoughts that invoke emotional reactions, preferably positive ones. Emotions are the octane of our consciousness. If we can get some strong emotions going about what we want to do then we are more likely to take action on them.

Bottom Line:

Figure out what you want.
What actions will lead to this outcome?
Believe you will succeed.
Assess what behaviors you have now that works in opposition to your goal and reroute them towards your goal.

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