Incredible Ways to Visualize Pain in the Brain

by Celeste Cooper, RN Health Professional

Our brain not only responds to pain, it is also affected by pain. In acute pain, the brain receives and relays messages to immediately deal with the threat. But, chronic pain, and our reaction to it, is catalogued in our brain for future reference.

In the Movie Theater of Our Mind

As the creators of neuroimaging explored visual trajectories, operating systems, and codes—certainly something more than I can wrap my head around—they expanded the way we examine brain function. By providing what looks like a movie theater exploding with light forces and color, they are able to interpret how the brain processes information to painful stimuli. This technology, and what we learn from biofeedback, gives us a close look at the complexity of the brain and our influence over it.

Biofeedback shows us that our brain does respond to our thoughts and that our thoughts can change our blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and even our body temperature. Certain types of biofeedback document the electrical activity in the brain in response to our thinking.

Today, we have physical evidence of what happens if we allow ourselves to be sucked into a negative vortex of catastrophic thinking. We’ve heard that saying, garbage in garbage out. For these reasons, it’s important that we find a way to think differently about our pain. According to a study reported on by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), positive thinking could be an important adjunct to managing chronic pain.

It's unreasonable to expect ourelves to be happy about whatever causes our pain, but we can rethink how we respond to it. Our body is hurting, so instead of getting mad, we should nurture it by replacing negative input with caring thoughts.

The Life Side of Pain

As a person who experiences the throes of migraine, vomiting to the point of exploding blood vessels in my face, I can hardly get a grip on conceptual versus creative thinking during the attack. But, I do know that certain parts of my brain WAKE UP, even while holding onto the commode. (Maybe that was too visual). For some unknown reason, when one would least expect it, creative ideas begin to flood my mind. I call this the Picasso effect. Somehow that makes me feel better about it, maybe because I know something positive is born of a painful experience.

Living with other chronic pain has been the catalyst for forming many rewarding and supportive relationships. One might say that is a trajectory, a code, of a different type. So, I suggest we not enclose our pain in a box or limit our thinking about it, because our brain—like it or not—is translating every word we say or think.

We can’t control prejudicial words of others, those get catalogued somewhere too, but we can change our deposit in the brain bank by changing our thoughts.

Creative Thinking

Try this, next time you catch yourself being consumed by the vortex, visualize the effect on your brain. If you were undergoing a neuroimaging test you would see an explosion of chaotic brain activity, and bright colors. Feel the physical effect on your heart rate and breathing. But instead of giving into it, don't let the current take control. Instead, think caring thoughts, hum the tune of a favorite song, or use other strategies you have found helpful. Next, visualize the neuroimaging of your brain as it changes from that bombshell of disorganized and frenzied commotion to one of pastels that gently float together providing a canvas of calm. Replace the garbage with delectable food for thought. You will feel your body begin to relax and take comfort in the changes.

And, next time someone says something unkind because they cannot understand your pain, maybe it would be best to say, “Excuse me; you are interfering with my creative thinking.”

September is chronic pain awareness month. Be aware not only for yourself, but for others too. Share this article if you think it might be helpful. And most of all, be patient with yourself.

Celeste Cooper, RN
Meet Our Writer
Celeste Cooper, RN

Celeste Cooper, R.N., is a freelance writer focusing on chronic pain and fibromyalgia. She is lead author of Integrative therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series. She enjoys her family, writing and advocating, photography, and nature. Connect with Celeste through Twitter @PainedInkSlayer.