Day 11: Pain Reprocessing In the comic strip "Peanuts," there was a classic running gag. Lucy baited Charlie Brown into trying to kick a football, then pulled it away at the last second. Over and over, she convinced him that this time, she’d let him kick it. And then of course, she didn’t. We can conclude two things from this: First - no wonder Lucy couldn't get any therapy patients. And second - poor Charlie Brown came to associate fear with kicking a football. The fear ran so deep, he even panicked when his girlfriend asked him to give it a try. Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb coined the phrase, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” If you experience fear with a certain action over and over, then that action becomes paired with fear. The two go hand in hand in your brain. Pain and Fear Somatic Tracking involves attending to the physical sensations in your body, free of fear, and free of resistance. You’re just checking in, with detached curiosity, and watching. Wherever your attention takes you, you follow. But what if your attention brings you to your pain? It can be very difficult to attend to this sensation without fear. Everyone finds pain unpleasant. But if you're a chronic pain sufferer, then your pain has likely scared you so many times, that it has become paired with fear. Ultimately, our goal is learn how to attend to neural pathway pain without fear. This further communicates to our brains that these feelings are safe, which works to deactivate our danger signals. In the following clip, I’m doing a Somatic Tracking exercise with Libby, a chronic headache sufferer. We’re halfway through the exercise…when her attention brings her to the pain in her head. Given her history of headaches, she naturally panics. But instead of engaging with the fear, she explores the sensation mindfully. Watch what happens: Your browser does not support the audio element. Click here to download the mp3 audio file Graded Exposure Although Libby was able to successfully attend to her pain without fear, she did so in a controlled environment, and with some guidance. Generally, unpairing pain and fear can be challenging. Graded exposure is a technique that can help us unpair pain and fear in a safe and gradual way. Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray famously parodied this approach in the movie, "What About Bob?" Graded exposure uses small, increment steps to safely regulate anxiety. It can help us teach our brains that a stimulus we've come to associate with danger is actually safe. This audio exercise uses graded exposure to help you mindfully attend to painful sensations. Remember, this is a gradual process. Your browser does not support the audio element. Click here to download the mp3 audio file As you learn to attend to pain without fear and without resistance, you're giving your brain the message that these sensations are safe. Like Charlie Brown said, "You can deactivate your brain's danger signals and develop new neural pathways by fundamentally altering your relationship with pain-related fear." Come to think of it, that may have been Snoopy.