How to Increase Pain Tolerance

"Parting is such sweet sorrow." We forget Shakespeare's timeless message uttered by a love-struck Juliet at the first sign of pain. Could the Bard of Avon's prescription contain a clue to a more successful, motivated and inspired life? "Bittersweet" is often used tongue-in-cheek, yet the oxymoron is what Shakespeare was pointing toward. An athlete slowly feels pride in and enjoys the slight "burn" while lifting weights because that burn is signaling something beneficial is coming. We can train the same way. We experience different types of pain: physical, emotional, psychological, and even societal. There is an idea among psychologists and students of sociology that "pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional." The key to "taking the edge off" is for us to learn how to increase pain tolerance.

The average human response to pain is to push it away and instead seek only pleasurable experiences. We seem to do this from childhood to old age. The ability to moderate, even transform pain is the opposite of that core response. It is possible to take the edge off of pain rather than remove it altogether. It is our tolerance we can improve. Let's explore how to increase pain tolerance.

What is Pain Tolerance?

So how can we do that? How can we take that edge off? Pain can manifest differently. Physical pain, for example, could range from a mild headache to a full-on migraine; from an injection's pinprick to the complete body trauma after major surgery; from a vague burning sensation while lifting weights to the sheer terror of a torn muscle or ligament. Psychological or emotional pain runs the same gamut of experiences or perceptions.

To have a better perspective on how to increase pain tolerance, it is helpful to view pain as a continuum of experience, or perception. In the 1980s, modern psychologists described the experience of pain in terms of perception. What might be excruciating and unbearable to one person could different for another.

The term pain tolerance is not the same as pain threshold. Take the example of a hot stove. The pain itself is a signal to the body so that we could protect ourselves. One person might recoil from at just the idea their hand was too close to the burner. Another individual might not recoil until there is stronger evidence (experience/perception) of heat touching the skin.

In both instances the individual recoils, but the perception of the pain or heat is different. That is the pain threshold. Pain tolerance, on the other hand, is the point at which a person can no longer keep the hand on the stove itself. We can increase or improve that tolerance level.

To better understand how to increase pain tolerance, it is helpful to remember that tolerance is something we can develop and strengthen. We may have been born with an innate ability to cope with pain or stress. Most babies cry when they are born. Factors like genetics, age, sex, chronic and mental illnesses, socialization and habituation affect a person's pain tolerance. Each individual ability is unique.

Why Raise Pain Tolerance?

"Sticks and stones?" Naive though it may sound, there may be some wisdom in the playground chant many young children learn at an early age. It might contain a key to how the human body and brain can accommodate or cope with pain, trauma, disease, and so on. Resiliency, adaptation, and pliability in the contexts of the body's ability to repair itself and the mind's ability to heal from, say emotional injury, are key benefits toward recovery of any kind.

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Perhaps one of the most alarming societal ailments of modern culture is the tendency to tune out. We do this by numbing ourselves: watching endless hours of television, playing video games, being too busy, overconsumption of food or alcohol, shopping too much, forever in search of a "quick fix." Are we simply avoiding pain?

When we learn to ask the right questions about the nature of pain itself at its core, we might face the more fundamental truths about ourselves that cannot be realized through any of those quick fixes. Just ask a marathon runner about his or her biggest challenge to success. The runner will undoubtedly talk about the willingness to face the "thing" inside themselves that is the greatest obstacle itself.

If we can learn the value and lessons of pain itself and how to increase pain tolerance, it might be possible to live a more satisfying and fulfilled life. Who wouldn't want that? Here are a few benefits of increasing pain tolerance:

  • Greater resiliency and ability to adapt
  • Greater courage, especially in facing discomfort
  • Greater performance
  • The greater sense of peace
  • Increased social skills, especially with those of different beliefs or values
  • Less dependency on stimulants or narcotics
  • Freedom

Tips How to Increase Pain Tolerance

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Swimmers begin a dive on a springboard. It is not something they rest on or picnic upon; rather, it is something that gets them where they want to go: that dive with grace and flow. We can view pain as a springboard. The good news is we know immediate ways how to increase pain tolerance. They include lifestyle adjustments and therapeutic interventions:

  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Vocalization
  • Mental Imagery
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Laughter

Exercise

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Both high-intensity workouts and aerobic exercise contribute to increasing pain tolerance. Speak to your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.

Yoga

Because better posture helps increase pain tolerance, yoga is a natural lifestyle enhancement. There are many approaches to teaching yoga in the West today. What suits one person might not be easily adaptable for another. Keep experimenting with different techniques until you find one that best suits you. Also, consider low impact alternatives like Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

Meditation

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Every time we go online, turn on the television or visit any other media, we hear about a "mindfulness revolution" going on. If meditation is something new to us, consider that there are countless methods available today. Try different types and find the one that works best for you. Many of these methods involve placing one's attention on the breath. Certain breathing techniques are beneficial in increasing pain tolerance. Many cities have meditation centers that offer public sessions.

Rest

One often overlooked lifestyle change might be a challenge for those who are constantly busy. Yet adjusting life's responsibilities so that seven or eight hours of sleep a night is possible can be transformative. Rest also includes the proper downtime we might need after strenuous activity, exercise, or even a long day's work. The classic coffee break (or tea break) that factory and officer workers used to look forward to so much in the past can be beneficial in today's fast-paced culture.

Vocalization

Imagine your favorite tennis player. Now imagine the sounds or vocalizations that player makes. Vocalizing while experiencing great pain or distress is one helpful way how to increase pain tolerance. Rather than the "grin and bear it" approach, the next time you slice your finger while chopping onions, try vocalizing.

Mental Imagery

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Work with the pain. Use mental imagery to create a narrative that will gradually transform it. Using images of color, light, and shapes can help to achieve our goals. It's easy to allow pain to incapacitate us. But as Lao Tzu taught, we can view pain as our teacher.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Why focus on negative thoughts, continuing to perpetuate them, when we can use our powerful minds to transform the way we experience pain? We can work with a therapist, but if that is not possible, or in between sessions, we can send ourselves the message that pain is signaling something different is on its way, and focus on that instead.

Biofeedback

In biofeedback, a therapist works with us on many of the points listed above: breathing, relaxation, and mental imagery. Consult your local directory and read reviews.

Laughter

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It may not always be the "best medicine," but it is a useful medicine, especially with the support of a group of friends.

With most of these suggestions, remember that it will take time. Pain tolerance isn't something we can achieve with one simple remedy. Having small goals and working on some of these activities with a friend is very helpful. Above all, be patient. The journey of transformation has many landmarks and photo opportunities along the way.

Conclusion: From Pain to Goal

Whether it is Superman becoming incapacitated by kryptonite, or the average person doubling over with a case of food poisoning, our reactions today do not have to be those of tomorrow. The simple fact of life is that we will someday come face to face with pain, either gradually or suddenly. We have little control over how that pain appears, but we have a lot of say in the decision to make it work for us. The "how" in how to increase pain tolerance is the decision to make ultimately it a goal, and to understand that the goal is worthwhile, if not lifelong, aspiration towards freedom.

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