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A couple of weeks ago I was in New York City and went to see the National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The former home of Andrew Carnegie (actually a mansion that’s worth the visit) was full of cool design items and ideas. I loved learning about sustainability-minded products/projects from Christopher Douglas (collapsible table) and Natalie Jeremijenko (feral robotic dog project).

Most interesting from a “coping with pain” perspective was the work on a 3D virtual reality “game” to help burn patients cope better with their extremely painful treatments. This work by Hunter Hoffman and his University of Washington colleagues lures patients into a virtual environment. Hoffman says:

“Pain requires conscious attention, so by taking the user’s attention away from the pain…there is less attention available for the person to process the pain signals. The more the patient feels like he or she is in SnowWorld, the greater the pain reduction.”

Hopefully, most of us will not have to deal with such deep pain, but we can consider how applying this principle of deflecting attention might help with the headache or back ache.

What mental image/visualization can help you deal with discomfort? Think about colors and cues from nature that will help. It’s no coincidence that the “coolness” of an icy environment and animals and people associated with a snowy world was created for burn victims.

For example, for a headache where so much attention is at the top of you body, in your head, a visualization like this might help cool and diffuse the tension down:

  • Imagine standing in a cool green forest, surrounded by tall majestic trees that are firmly rooted in the ground; then imagine you are the tree, with your feet firmly in the ground.

There are many people who are far more skilled in guided imagery and visualization than I. I will research some good sources, and welcome recommendations. In the meantime, try it out yourself. One way to start is to pull out some old photos or search online for pictures of places that make you feel good.  Look at them, then close your eyes and imagine them.  Practice conjuring up those images.

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