Too many of us have experienced the fact that the pain of a broken heart can be very real--a palpable sensation in our chests. But now research is showing that the power of love can significantly reduce pain. The study at Stanford University found that the simple act of looking at a photograph of a beloved person "reduced moderate pain by about 40 percent and eased severe pain by about 10 to 15 percent."
Those are the kind of numbers that make health writers sit up and reach for the keyboard. But are they really accurate? As usual, it pays to learn more about the study. In this case, the study, reported in the New York Times, was of just 15 college students. That's a very small study by anyone's standards, and it's the kind of study that can't be placebo-controlled or double-blind. That is, you can't fake giving someone a photo of someone else that isn't their beloved, and the researchers have to know which student gets to see which photo.
However, before we dimiss the findings completely, it's worth looking at other studies that claim, for example, ". . . romantic love activates the brain’s dopamine system." The theory is that perhaps it's not only dopamine that gets triggered by love, but our body's natural painkillers. Yes, it's still theoretical, but it does appear that how we feel emotionally directly affects not just our mood but our body and brain chemistry.
And from a practical, anecdotal standpoint, it just seems to make sense. Who hasn't felt the energy and excitement, and general feeling of well-being that comes with a new romantic love? But how can we apply this to our lives? We can't just decide to fall in love when we're feeling pain. And what about longer relationships, where our love may be tempered and broadened by experience; it may have grown to become like a strong and slow river instead of a fast moving stream. Does that kind of love also reduce feelings of pain?
Clearly there's a lot of interesting research that still needs to happen. It may be a far-fetched fantasy, but imagine going to your doctor and having them say, "Well, you can take these pills, or you can have a love affair. Your choice." Have you ever found that how you felt in your romantic relationship affected your health in any way?
Pain Management Tip
: It seems clear, that sometimes our thoughts are our worst enemies when it comes to minimizing pain. Aside from focusing on a loved one, and keeping a photo handy at the bedside or in a wallet, you may want to try visualization. Try imagining yourself in a happy, pain-free environment, with your loved ones. It may take a few tries, but by concentrating on the details, you can build a surprisingly rich and creative inner world that can help you remove yourself, if only temporarily, from any physical pain you're feeling.
Love and Pain Relief
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