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Know the Difference Between Pain and Discomfort to Achieve Excellence

: Knowing the difference between pain and discomfort can determine your success or failure, if you want to achieve excellence “Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. It may mean giving up familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding work, values no longer believed in, and relationships that have lost their meaning.” – John C. Maxwell

A few years ago, I attended a Yin yoga class for several months. Yin yoga is a form of yoga during which passive poses are held for several minutes. In this way, without the distraction of constant movement and muscle engagement, your connective tissue has the opportunity to stretch and you are able to go much deeper into a pose. In addition, as poses are held for several minutes, your body can move beyond the 30 seconds it takes for muscles to relax and stretching to occur.

During our first class our teacher asked us: “What is the difference between pain and discomfort?” I had never thought of this before. I didn’t know how to answer and I remained a little confused. Then I realized that I had developed a high tolerance to pain. I was accustomed to categorize most hurts (physical, emotional, psychological) as uncomfortable and I was used to staying in painful situations for a long time. That’s a great strategy during a crisis but not as an ongoing way to deal with life.

The degree of pain or discomfort has some universal and subjective elements. Some people endure in the face of pain out of self-reliance and a belief that we must make every effort to stay alive. Others experience everything as pain and try to move away from it by avoidance methods like watching TV or eating ice cream.  Basically, I’ve learned to distinguish the difference between pain and discomfort this way…

Pain is intense. Pain changes the way you behave. Pain gets worse the more you continue to try and push through it. Adjectives you use to describe pain may include sharp, stabbing, and shooting. Pain tells us to back off and regroup.

Discomfort is there, but in the background. Discomfort can fluctuate and both increase and decrease over time. Discomfort can be described with words like annoying, lingering, irritating, and aching. Oftentimes, we need to learn to lean into discomfort to make improvements.

Physical pain is often easiest to figure out. You break a bone in your leg, and immediately your nervous system zings a message to your brain, so your brain can say, “Hey, my leg hurts!”

But when there’s a spiritual, emotional or mental pain, it’s not so easy to recognize the body connection, unless you’re deeply attuned to your body sensations. Practicing mindfulness will help you become aware of how you’re organized around pain and discomfort.

Whether it’s preventing a sport’s injury, taking a business risk, or handling a crisis in the family, it’s important to recognize the signals that pain and discomfort are sending you. If you want to achieve excellence, it’s vital to know when to push it and when to back off.

What’s the first step to releasing discomfort and pain? Breathing is the key to connecting feelings to thought, body to mind, so you can make informed choices about your body sensations.

If you want to release a tight muscle, you must go directly into a stretch and open the muscle and breathe into it, not around it. Learn to face life challenges in the same way – begin breathing exercises and mindfully face it head on. Jamie Gerdsen describes this choice so well:

“To learn, to experience something new, you have to leave your comfort zone. That transition between what was comfortable and what will be comfortable is scary. Everything you thought you knew starts to look wrong. Your head trash really starts doing a number on you. Those who are a tad weak in the knees will fold faster than a cheap card table chair. To grow, you have to embrace the discomfort and work at it until all the shades of gray change back to black and white.”

Because they are on the same continuum, it takes practice to determine the between pain and discomfort. Just as it’s crucial to get your broken leg professional help, it’s vital to get professional help for the spiritual, emotional, and psychological pain. Because when we endure that kind of pain, it may transform into physical pain, compounding the problem.

Remember that staying in control will make you less susceptible to pain and injury. If life seems out of control and you’ve been putting up with chronic pain (physical, emotional, psychological) for too long, please contact me and schedule an “Unlocking Your Potential” 30-minute complimentary consultation (in-person, by phone or via Skype). I’d love to help you practice greater awareness and coping techniques.

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