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.
Also on HuffPost:
One of the oldest herbal remedies for migraines, this plant can be used in many forms, included steeped in tea or even eaten raw, according to Alexander Mauskop, M.D., a board-certified neurologist focused on headaches and the director and founder of the <a href="http://www.nyheadache.com/" target="_hplink">New York Headache Center</a>. That's because it contains a powerful chemical called <a href="http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-933-FEVERFEW.aspx?activeIngredientId=933&activeIngredientName=FEVERFEW" target="_hplink">parthenolide</a>, which has been linked to warding off migraines, although Mauskop says science hasn't really offered an answer yet as to how or why, One of the first studies of the herb came out of Great Britain in the 1980s, and found that 70 percent of people who chewed a couple of feverfew leaves each day saw <a href="http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/feverfew-000243.htm#ixzz20Lk71tCK" target="_hplink">their symptoms improve and experienced fewer migraines</a>, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. In supplement form -- as long as it contains at least 0.2 percent parthenolides -- 100 to 150 milligrams a day may do the trick, according to a HuffPost blog by Dr. Andrew Weil, because it can help "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-weil-md/a-better-route-to-migrain_b_526945.html" target="_hplink">prevent the release of substances that dilate blood vessels in the head</a>."
Unlike feverfew, this herb is toxic in any form but the processed supplement, says Mauskop. However, its headache-preventing properties are equally impressive. The chemicals in butterbur are thought to <a href="http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-649-BUTTERBUR.aspx?activeIngredientId=649&activeIngredientName=BUTTERBUR" target="_hplink">relieve spasms and decrease inflammation</a>, which can cause headaches, according to WebMD. A small 2004 study found that patients who took 75 milligrams of butterbur twice daily had <a href="http://www.neurology.org/content/63/12/2240.abstract" target="_hplink">48 percent fewer migraines</a>, compared to a 26 percent decrease experienced by people given only a placebo. While it's been predominantly researched as a preventive measure, there's some preliminary evidence that it can also help beat a migraine as it's happening. Taking <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/complementary-medicine/200808/migraines-easy-prevent-naturally" target="_hplink">100 milligrams every three hours</a> (up to 300 milligrams in 24 hours) just might do the trick, according to <em>Psychology Today</em>.
Mauskop's own research found that people with migraines and cluster headaches are often deficient in magnesium. He demonstrated that an infusion of the mineral helped to stop the pain. Of course, an infusion isn't the most practical of treatments when you're struck by a migraine at the office, say, but supplements can also help. One small study found daily magnesium supplements <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8792038" target="_hplink">reduced migraine frequency by nearly 42 percent</a>, compared to only about 16 percent in people given a placebo pill. Some people have trouble absorbing magnesium, says Mauskop, which can lead to the unpleasant side effect of diarrhea, but overall it's considered safe in 200 milligram daily doses, he says. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/fdecomite/6257573610/" target="_hplink">fdecomite</a></em>
This B vitamin -- <a href="http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/957.html" target="_hplink">found naturally in foods like milk, meat, nuts and green veggies</a> -- was <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9484373" target="_hplink">linked to migraine prevention</a> in a small 1998 study, but in a very high dose, writes Weil, one that would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-weil-md/a-better-route-to-migrain_b_526945.html" target="_hplink">need to be prescribed by a doctor</a>. Riboflavin (and an <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/heart-failure/tc/coenzyme-q10-topic-overview" target="_hplink">enzyme that acts similarly called CoQ10</a>) is involved in producing energy inside the cells of the body, Mauskop explains, so it's better to take in the morning to ward off migraines, in case it disrupts sleep.
A dose of these healthy fats can fight inflammation, which is a likely culprit in many headaches and possibly some migraines. Everyday Health recommends <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/headache-migraine-pictures/8-home-remedies-for-headaches-and-migraines.aspx#/slide-8" target="_hplink">flax seeds</a> but fish, like salmon, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/31/cause-of-headaches-foods_n_1392670.html#s829432&title=Tamer_Omega3_Fatty" target="_hplink">fish oil supplements may also help</a>. "There are so many other benefits of omega 3s, even if it doesn't help your headaches, there's no reason not to try it," says Mauskop. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/samcatchesides/5419724548/" target="_hplink">http://www.samcatchesides.com/</a></em>
As anyone who gets headaches knows, certain smells can trigger the pain. But peppermint in particular seems to have pain-<em>reducing</em> effects, says Mauskop. "It's very individual," he says, and may not work for everyone. Or, it could just mask less pleasant smells.
This spice is well-known for being friendly to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/23/gingers-health-benefits_n_826795.html#s244432&title=Travel_Companion" target="_hplink">upset stomachs</a>, and it can ease migraine-related nausea, too, says Mauskrop. It may also ease pain thanks to some <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/23/gingers-health-benefits_n_826795.html#s244430&title=Cramp_Reliever" target="_hplink">anti-inflammatory properties</a>. Just be sure you're getting the real thing, he says -- ginger ale doesn't cut it. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mfdudu/1211609716/" target="_hplink">mfdudu</a></em>
Rubbing The Temples
There may not be a body of research to support a simple head rub, but there's no denying it feels good! People instinctively rub their temples in the throes of a headache, and if it works for them, why not? "Whatever feels good, do that!" says Mauskop.
In a similar vein, a whole-body massage can help, too. Part of that is likely due to the stress relief, as tension is a known headache trigger. A small study found that frequent migraine sufferers had <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16827629" target="_hplink">fewer headaches following six weekly massage sessions</a>. However, it's likely that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/30/headache-treatments_n_1064690.html" target="_hplink">you'd have to continue the relaxing practice</a> -- indefinitely -- which could get pricey!
One way to reap the stress-reducing benefits for free is a quiet meditation practice, says Mauskop, who lists meditation as one of his top two natural migraine treatments. There remains <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/30/headache-treatments_n_1064690.html" target="_hplink">little concrete evidence</a> that meditation in particular can ease the pain, Health.com reported, but it is certainly a <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/meditation/HQ01070/" target="_hplink">proven stress reliever</a>.
Drink More Water
Plenty of headaches are triggered by dehydration -- so much so that Mauskop says he has patients who will quickly drink a few glasses of H2O when they feel a migraine coming on, and actually stop it in its tracks. "They know to catch it early," he says, "that definitely can help." Not a huge water fan? There are plenty of ways to snazz up a glass or trick yourself into sipping more throughout the day <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/07/drinking-water-week-more-water_n_1474999.html" target="_hplink">here</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/gfrphoto/1695650382/" target="_hplink">Greg Riegler Photography</a></em>
There have been mixed results in the research examining this ancient Chinese medicine's effect on migraines. Most recently, a study questioned <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/09/us-acupuncture-sham-idUSTRE8081I920120109" target="_hplink">whether the traditional practice offered much more than a placebo effect</a>, perhaps due to the extra attention lavished by the acupuncturist. Proponents maintain that the needles trigger pain-reducing chemicals, Reuters reported, but all those visits could become time consuming and expensive, points out Mauskop. A DIY altnerative might be acupressure, he says. Try pressing on the webbed space between your thumb and pointer finger. It may only be temporary, but it can offer relief.
"Caffeine is a double-edged sword," says Mauskop. If you're too dependent on multiple cups of coffee a day (or even frequent doses of certain headache medications formulated with caffeine) you're likely to experience <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/31/cause-of-headaches-foods_n_1392670.html#s829426&title=The_Jurys_Still" target="_hplink">rebound headaches when the jolt starts to wane</a>. However, in small doses, a little bit can help reduce pain. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/oimax/2260643716/" target="_hplink">OiMax</a></em>
Along with meditation, Mauskrop calls staying active one of his top two most effective ways to prevent and treat migraines. Of course, many people are in too much pain in the middle of a headache to even think about heading to the gym. But a few people have told him when they feel something coming on, they can go out for a jog and avoid the migraine altogether. "It relaxes you, it releases endorphins," he says. Last year, a small Swedish study attempted to find out just how good exercise is at preventing migraines and discovered a solid sweat session was <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111010075500.htm" target="_hplink">just as effective as migraine medications</a> at keeping the debilitating headaches at bay. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/dafydd359/2238925352/" target="_hplink">Dafydd359</a></em>
Cool Down -- And Warm Up
Many people will feel a chill when they get a migraine, explains Mauskop, while at the same time their heads feel "hot and cloudy" he says. For some temporary relief, try reversing the feelings -- cool your head with an ice pack while warming the body in the bath, he suggests. Granted, it's not very practical unless you're at home and have plenty of time, he says, but dilating the blood vessels in the body may help blood flow away from the head and reduce some of the pain, he says.