Espresso Pain Relief?

I know it’s trivial but on a harmless everyday level this illustrates one of the fundamental drivers of pain. All pain.

We have a coffee pot. One of those old fashioned / retro metal espresso makers that you sit on the hob. You know, where you put the water in the bottom, the coffee in the middle and then when it boils, the steam forces the water under pressure through the coffee and into the pourer-jug thing at the top.

It’s absolutely not a percolator. Despite the cleverness of some of the ads in the ’70s and ’80s (yes, I am that old), it is my considered opinion that percolators murder good coffee. This is not one of them. Coffee is too important to treat badly.

Anyway, with this one, the espresso maker, the top and bottom screw together so it’s pressure-sealed and doesn’t leak steam and boiling water all over the place. I know they’re a bit low-tech compared to the modern electric capsule-coffee machines that look like futuristic robots and Mr Clooney advertises them all over the place but it has one big advantage. It makes great coffee. That is, if you like espresso-based coffee. Which as you might have guessed, I do.

So here’s the interesting thing I noticed about pain.

To save time, I boil the kettle and use boiling water in it instead of heating it up from cold on the hob. I’m usually making other drinks at the same time, so it makes sense to use the water that’s already hot, don’t you think?

What that means of course, is that when you screw the top onto the bottom, the bottom is literally boiling-hot and being metal, it has a high heat-transfer coefficient. (I’m pretty sure this is the first time that heat-transfer coefficients have made it into this blog, going back to my chemical engineering heritage).

Now whilst this is very sensible from a water-heating point of view, it also means that it’s bloody hot when you grab it to tighten the top onto the base. Hot enough to be too painful to hold. I use a tea-towel to hold it so that I don’t burn my fingers.

Now this is the thing. On occasion, when there was no tea-towel to hand, I’d tighten it bare fingered. Carefully, a bit at a time, blowing my fingers in between turns as you do. There’s a small steam safety valve you can use so you don’t have to hold it fully and still get a good grip with just two fingers. Even so, it was still too hot to hold and I’m too lazy to go get another tea towel…

Just recently, I’ve noticed that I’ve stopped using the tea-towel technique altogether and no longer burn my hand. I seem to have developed ‘asbestos fingers’ as my mother calls it whenever someone can hold something hot, with echoes of ‘you’re-just-like-your-Dad’ in the air. The traditional explanation about being able to do things that other people find painful is that because you’ve done it so often, your nerve-ends have become desensitised to the temperature/chemical/pressure stimulus. You just don’t feel the heat.

It’s wrong. That’s not how it works.

If I pick up other hot things, boiling hot things that are obviously just as hot because water always boils at the same temperature, (that recently resurrected chemical engineer is now shouting what-about-pressure-effects?), it hurts just as much as before.

It’s only the coffee pot that no longer hurts me. Weird?

Not really. It does make sense. In essence, what’s happened is that over time, my unconscious mind has discovered that when I screw the coffee pot together, even though it is boiling hot, I never get injured. It simply doesn’t take long enough for my fingers to actually burn. There’s not enough time for tissue damage.

This means that at a very deep level, I know that making coffee this way is not going to damage my fingers, so I don’t need pain to warn me about the danger because there isn’t any danger.

My unconscious has turned off the pain alarm. Not for heat, because other hot things still hurt. Just whilst I make coffee. Interestingly, if the base slips when I’m screwing it together the pain flicks back on instantly. Which hurts. Damn.

One of the keys to not feeling pain, depends on your unconscious mind believing that you are not threatened with tissue damaging danger. So if your environment is perceived as safe and no further tissue damage is likely, (as in normal coffee pot dynamics), a pain alarm is not needed. But if the environment is perceived as being threatening, (the coffee pot slips), then the pain alarm is flicked back on again.

As I said at the beginning, this may be trivial but it’s a real-life everyday example of a correctly functioning, complex pain alarm. It explains how something that used to hurt, doesn’t. It’s isn’t that practice teaches you how to ignore it, it’s that practice teaches your unconscious mind that this particular activity is not going to damage you.

As it turns out, it’s also a fundamental principle behind hypnotic pain management. At their core, most hypnotic pain management techniques tell you that you are safe.

Some help you to perceive that you are in an increasingly safe state both physically and emotionally and that your tissues are not undergoing increasing damage (useful to combat chronic conditions).

Some help you to feel distance or disconnection from the tissue damage itself, (sensory distortions or dissociations). If the unconscious perceives that the damage is not happening to its body, then pain alarm is not needed and isn’t fired.

Still others modulate the sensory input so that the unconscious is convinced that the nerve messages are wrong. For example experiencing numbness means that the nerves which send messages of damage are countermanded, (after all if the area is numb, there can’t be any nerve messages can there?), so the actual tissue damage goes unreported. No danger. No pain.

So, coffee pots aside, if you find yourself with pain management issues, I’d urge you to seriously consider the benefits of hypnotherapy as part of your strategy, especially if you have long term pain or a chronic pain condition (fibro, lupus, CRPS, migraines and so on). And if you do consider it – I’d be happy to help and advise.

As always, if you ask I’ll answer your questions. If you like, I can offer direct therapeutic help either face to face (if you’re local to Peterborough) or via Skype if you’re not. And if you can only afford 10 minutes at a time, there I’ve created some carefully crafted pain management mp3s which are waiting just for you on my website.

So if you hurt – let’s talk.

Related

Tony Burkinshaw Cognitive Hypnotherapy: tonyburkinshaw.co.uk

Pain Management mp3s: tonyburkinshaw.co.uk/shop

Follow me on twitter?: @TBtalks

Random Acts of Kindness: @RAK_UK

Migraine, Lupus, Fibromyalgia, CRPS Hypnotherapy mp3

The Old Rope Trick?
© Tony Burkinshaw 2013

 

Pain & Hypnotherapy. What’s the answer?

I’ve been having long distance virtual conversations again. People have started asking me interesting and searching questions. I like it. It keeps me on my toes. Grounded.

Occasionally stops me waffling.

Dawn, of Finding My Inner Courage fame, asked one which cut straight to the heart of what I do. It sounded so simple…

“Could you please explain to me how hypnosis works with chronic pain?”

‘Ah, one of the difficult ones’, I thought, paraphrasing Wen, enlightened figment of Terry Pratchett’s fertile imagination.

This was either going to involve writing my first book, (quite a good idea actually but perhaps not just yet), or would really test my ability to be succinct. You may have gathered that I tend to pad my prose with sideways off-shoots as they arrive in my head whilst I type. What I sent her was quite a good summary of this complex subject and I thought it might be worth sharing.

So here is my bite-sized reduction of the totality of the Chronic Pain Experience and how Hypnotherapy addresses it:

There are two parts to this: How does ‘pain’ happen and How does Hypnotherapy address this?

How does Pain  happen?

In essence, pain is the result of lightning fast calculations that your brain makes as a result of the totality of the many sensory inputs it has. This includes your nerve impulses, hormonal communications, emotional state, and your unconscious thoughts/feeling/beliefs (which are internally created sensory inputs).

Your brain uses these to assess your current situation and various potential future situations and makes decisions about your current and future safety, particularly with regard to the potential for physical damage.

Pain is an alarm which your brain can choose to trigger (PLEASE NOTE: this is not a conscious decision or choice – it is automatic. You can’t consciously choose not to feel pain!). Your brain will only decide to trigger pain if it assesses that you are in danger AND that pain is the most appropriate alarm to use. (Think about soldiers in mid-battle, athletes in competition, parents whose children are in danger – all have been known to suffer major injury and still function without pain – The pain comes later, if at all).

Pain is essentially an attention-grabbing alarm. It stops you in your tracks and insists, (very loudly), that you do something to protect yourself.It is vital to survival.

When you feel pain, your brain increases the sensitivity of the nerves which indicated the damage. It wants to know as much as it can, quickly.

It triggers healing & protection responses (inflammation, muscle tension etc.). These in turn can trigger increases in sensitivity.

Important: You should always seek medical advice if you have persistent or unexpected pain

The pain alarm can misfire in two ways:

  1. The sensitivity fails to reduce when the healing process has completed. The brain misinterprets increased sensitivity as increased damage and increases the sensitivity yet again to be sure it knows as much as it can about the damage. Instead of gradually lowering the threat level, the alarm hyper-sensitises itself and sets up a vicious circle. You keep feeling pain because you keep feeling pain because you keep feeling pain…
  2. If your environment is threatening, your brain’s base level for alarms is set very high anyway. You are constantly on high-alert. You get very jumpy about injury and so feel pain much more quickly than ‘normal’. A key point here is that your ‘environment’ includes how you feel, so if you feel bad about yourself. (limiting beliefs, self-loathing, lack of self-worth, lack of love etc.), your brain treats this in the same way as a physically threatening environment.

How does Hypnotherapy help?

Essentially hypnotherapy works in 3 ways.

  1. It uses hypnotic trance to temporarily convince the brain that it is safe. As an example, ‘Dissociative Trance States’ dissociate ‘you’ from your entire ‘body’ or just the ‘part’ of your body which hurts. This convinces your brain that the threat is longer relevant to ‘you’. You now feel no pain. This is really effective for hypnotic anaesthesia. It can be dangerous to use these techniques in isolation because pain is an essential warning tool. 
  2. Hypnotherapy can be effective in the longer term by addressing the perceived level of threat in your environment. This can be either by helping you discover resources which give you perceived control in a physically threatening environment or by addressing any deeply embedded underlying personal issues as discussed above. This reduces the environmental threat level and ‘resets’ the sensitivity of your pain alarm to normal levels.
  3. Hypnotherapy can re-connect the mind and body, which Western Society believes to be separate. This allows you to bring some control and guidance to your natural healing ability and to focus this healing on those areas which have been injured or damaged. This is effective in long term pain relief because healing actually does improve AND increases your unconscious’ sense of control, reducing the need for a pain alarm to be triggered. Essentially, if you are already dealing with the threat, your unconscious doesn’t need to remind you of that threat. (This is one of the reasons that toot-ache often stops once you sit down in the dentist’s waiting room – you have already taken the action needed, so the alarm stops).

I thought this worked quite well as a high-level walk down the road I travel and it’s a different style of post than I usually do, although as you can tell, I couldn’t completely resist the chatter.

Let me know what you think. I

It might be worth writing some more of these.

Related:

Hypnotherapy mp3 for Relief for Chronic Pain Conditions

Hypnotherapy mp3 for Migraine Relief

Hypnotherapy mp3 for Healing & Relief Pre & Post Surgery

Hypnotherapy mp3 chronic pain migraine

You say that’s safe?
© Tony Burkinshaw 2013