Your Attention “Pain Ridder” Capacitor
Your Brain Capacitor. (Before you comment, this comes in various shades.)
I heard a really interesting Fresh Air program today on NPR. It was about pain, placebos, meditation and the intersection of all three. The person who was being interviewed, author Jo Marchant, (who had a fantastic female British accent so she automatically sounded knowledgeable), was talking about, among other things, something called “immersive virtual reality”, which is the use of virtual reality with patients to alleviate pain.
An example she had referenced was specific to burn patients who were put into a virtual “snow land” of sorts that was demonstrated to significantly reduce pain associated with bandage removal and other situations that are so painful for these patients.
When asked to extrapolate on why this works, she explained that the brain can only have a certain capacity for attention, meaning there isn’t a whole lot for experiencing pain if something (better) is taking up most of the room.
I realize that the context of this interview was with respect to physical pain, but it did make me think about emotional pain, as well, which shouldn’t be too far off (and was also discussed in terms of stress).
Just like the most valuable time to exercise is often when you don’t feel like getting up from the couch, the best time to focus attention on less painful emotions is exactly when it feels easier to just wallow. Like so many things I have written about, this also falls into the “easier said than done” category, but what doesn’t that actually makes a difference?
There is something to be said for turning off Facebook, removing yourself from poring over old photographs and emails, not to mention thoughts, of whatever is causing you pain and forcing – yes, FORCING, yourself to do anything else (that is hopefully not destructive) – exercise, listen to music, calling a friend, going for a walk, podcasts, you name it.
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of distractions waiting for you and unlike all the times when they are not good (ie. driving, dinner, that work conference), this is one time when they can actually help you. Go for it and fill up your attention capacitor in your brain with a good, even shallow, but positive, distraction. (FYI – the attention capacitor is somewhere between the area that only remembers to hum tunes you hate and the area responsible for you never remembering the name of that new person you just met).
Here’s to your attention capacitor – may it be filled with a lot more good stuff this year.
Until next time,
P.S. You can listen to the podcast of this episode here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=464372009&m=464458795
It’s well worth it!