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How Do I Teach My Brain to Deactivate My Pain?

This excerpt is taken from an episode of the "Tell Me About Your Pain" podcast. You can listen to the full episode below, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts


Fear is the fuel that keeps chronic pain alive. But as many pain sufferers know, it's hard to overcome that fear when it feels so powerful and so automatic.

In this episode, Alan and Alon explain how to teach your brain to turn off the fear by introducing a new concept: corrective experiences and setbacks. Alan talks to Sue, who suffers from multiple painful symptoms, and Christie, who feels pain whenever she types. These sessions provide real life examples of corrective experiences and setbacks in action.

Finally, Alan and Alon explain how you can use corrective experiences to help your brain unlearn the fear and deactivate your pain.

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Alan: Fear is the fuel for the pain. It keeps your brain interpreting it as if it's dangerous. To overcome any fear, the thing that you need is exposure to the thing that you're afraid of.

Alon: If you want to change your neural pathways, if you want to change your relationship with something, you need to have exposure to it. For example, if you're afraid of spiders, you need some kind of exposure to a spider.

Alan: And if you have a fear of public speaking, you need to get up in front of people and talk.

Alon: And if you have a fear of awkwardness, you could hang out with me and Alan in Junior High.

Alan: That actually might be a little too much exposure.

Alon: So true. But that's actually a really good segue, because exposure itself is not enough. When you get exposed to the thing you're afraid of, two things can happen: corrective experiences and setbacks. A corrective experience is when the exposure goes well.

Alan: Once you collect enough corrective experiences, your brain learns that whatever it was afraid of is not actually dangerous.

Alon: A lot of pain sufferers have triggers that they are afraid of. So let's say you have back pain and walking is a trigger for you, if you take a walk around the block and it goes well, and you have a little less fear afterwards, that's a corrective experience. And once you get enough corrective experiences, your brain learns that walking isn't dangerous, and the pain goes away.

Alan: That's how corrective experiences work, but there's a flip side. If you get exposure to the thing that you're afraid of and it goes badly, it can make you even more afraid than you were before. And we call that a setback...So the goal is to maximize corrective experiences minimize setbacks.

[this is an excerpt only - for the full episode, listen to the podcast above]

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