What's the thing you do best? Our biggest strengths can contribute significantly to our happiness, success and well-being -- and to those of the people around us.
According to newly-released Gallup data, using one's best talents can also play a role in one's comfort. In more than 120,000 interviews conducted during the latter half of 2012, Gallup found that the more people use their strengths throughout the day, the less likely they are to say they feel physical pain.
At least 116 million Americans live with chronic pain, uncomfortable at best, debilitating and isolating at worst.
Despite existing health problems, 50 percent of people who do what they do best for at least 10 hours a day said they experience pain, while 69 percent of people who use their top strengths for three hours a day or less said they experience pain, according to the new report. The relationship also exists among people without any ongoing health issues, albeit more weakly: 13 percent of people who use their strengths for 10 or more hours a day reported physical pain, while 17 percent of people who use their strengths for three hours or fewer did.
Whether the people using their strengths all day long are simply more positive people or just more distracted is still to be determined, according to Gallup. But it's certainly something to consider when reaching into the toolbox of pain management techniques. In addition to playing to your strengths, here are 10 more all-natural, little-known ways to make yourself more comfortable, fast.
It's not exactly medicine, but laughter really does have health-promoting properties. Beside offering some stress relief, burning a few calories and potentially leading to a longer life, a hearty belly laugh from time to time may offer some natural pain relief. It's likely due to laughter's triggering a surge of feel-good chemicals in the body called endorphins, which have been shown to act as painkillers.
As if you really needed any more reasons to kick the habit for good, in a study of people with back pain, those who had never smoked reported the least discomfort. According to the study, smoking is an identified risk factor for back pain and disc problems, and current smokers reported the greatest pain.
Keep Stress At Bay
The body's physical response to stress -- the heart starts pumping, breathing quickens, muscles tense -- is similar to the body's physical response to pain. Thinking about a stressful event has been shown to significantly increase muscle tension in patients with chronic back pain, WebMD reported. The more stress, the higher the level of cortisol, often called the stress hormone, in the blood. This in turn may "lead to increased vulnerability to pain", according to a 2013 study. Relaxation can come in many forms -- maybe it's meditation, reading a good book, going for a jog, taking a nap. What's more important is just to de-stress, somehow.
Go To Sleep
Is there anything a little extra shut-eye can't fix?! A small 2012 study found that, in addition to sleep's protective benefits to memory, mood and the waistline, spending more time in the Land of Nod can decrease pain sensitivity. In the study, 18 healthy young adults were divided into two groups. One group slept nearly two hours more a night. The people who slept longer were able to hold their fingers on a heat source to test pain tolerance for 25 percent longer than the sleep-deprived participants.
Fall In Love
Coupling up improves lifespan, lowers stress levels and rates of disease and boosts sex life, but it also may help lower pain. A small 2011 study subjected 17 women in long-term relationships to a short pain shock. Some were allowed to look at photos of their partner during the pain, others were not. The women who were allowed to see their loved one's face described their pain as less intense. According to the study, the areas of the brain activated by the photos are linked to feelings of safety. And to top it off, the longer the women had been in their relationships, the greater the activity was in this part of the brain.
Curse Like A Sailor
Put your potty mouth to good use next time you stub your toe: Swearing seems to have some powerful painkilling properties. In a 2009 study, 67 students who had been asked to hold their hands in a tub of cold water for as long as they could stayed submerged 40 seconds longer when they were allowed to swear while doing so, Scientific American reported. However, swearing selectively may be more beneficial than simply swearing more: The pain-reducing powers of curse words seem to drop if you've been using them regularly when you don't really need to, HuffPost reported in 2011.
Be A Picky Eater
Inflammation -- the redness, warmth, swelling and pain that, despite its associated discomfort, helps you to heal -- is an important part of our body's response to injury and infection. However, chronic inflammation, which occurs when the body's response signal is essentially always "on", has been associated with serious health concerns, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's, among others. There's some evidence that certain diet choices can help or hurt inflammation. A Mediterranean-style diet rich in omega 3s, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats seems to fend off some inflammation-related pain. Refined grains, too much sugar, saturated and trans fats and alcohol, to name a few, could contribute to inflammation and pain.
If you're in pain, you might think that exercise would only make the discomfort worse. However, there's substantial research showing movement -- done safely and carefully, of course -- can actually improve the situation. That's because exercise is a known endorphin trigger, so getting moving sends those feel-good chemicals throughout the body and lowers pain. Exercise also seems to reduce certain substances in the body called cytokines that promote inflammation, according to a 2012 study that examined the effects of physical activity on nerve pain. It can also boost mood and lead to greater quality of life in people in chronic pain, Health.com reported.
Listen To Music
Don't underestimate the powers of distraction. It's a simple mind trick in theory, but it can work wonders when it comes to chronic pain, lowering pain intensity more significantly than simply learning to accept the pain, according to a 2013 study.
Plus, a number of ways in which you might attempt to distract yourself have their very own pain-fighting powers, like video games, memory challenges and listening to music. In a 2006 study from Case Western Univeristy and the Cleveland Clinic, chronic pain patients who listened to music for an hour a day and kept a pain diary reported a 12 to 21 percent drop in pain compared to people keeping the same diary who didn't listen to any tunes.
It can be tough to feel sexy when your head is throbbing or your joints ache, but research suggests that sex could actually offer some relief. Sexual stimulation and orgasm have been shown to release those same ol' endorphins, as well as other types of the body's natural painkillers, according to Prevention. The pain-reducing benefits can last up to two days. Sex may be particularly beneficial for migraine sufferers, 60 percent of whom said sexual activity during a migraine or cluster headache relieved their symptoms, according to a 2013 study.
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