Do You Have Fear of Pain? Tell Me How You Deal With It

I have always had a terrible fear of physical pain. My pain tolerance went so high that when I would cut my finger, the feeling of the pain combined with the sight of blood would lead to fainting. After giving birth, I congratulated myself for defeating my general fear of pain and the specific fear of labor. I was proud for joining the league of super women who defied the pain and gave birth naturally (thanks God for epidural). I thought that I became stronger.

Few days ago, I saw my dentist. Waiting to be called into the dentist’s office, to my surprise, I started feeling dizzy. I was laying down on the chair of torture with the protection glasses on, when after only few seconds the lenses became blurry and my forehead sweaty. To my bigger surprise, I was terrified of the anticipated pain as much as before giving birth – if not even more.

In 2001, a team of Finnish researchers from the Helsinki University Central Hospital, the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology did a study on the pain tolerance in women with fear of labor and compared it with the pain tolerance in women without fear of labor (should you want to see the elaborate description of how the pain was measured and the study was conducted, please read Saisto et al., 2001). I thought that every woman has fear of labor. I stand corrected. The findings of the study show that all the women, both the fearful and the fearless have a lower pain tolerance during pregnancy than after pregnancy – not my case. Yet, both before and after pregnancy, the women with fear of labor tolerated pain for a shorter period of time compared with the women without fear of labor. In addition, fear of labor may reduce the pain tolerance in some women, and I seem to be one of them.

The findings of the above-mentioned study seem counterintuitive to me. After I managed one of the most excruciating pains, why am I even more afraid when I am anticipating pain?

Strong motivation. That’s the key. During the labor, the thought that I want my baby to come out of me healthy gave me the courage to manage the pain the best I could. During the visit to the dentist, my mind was blocked by fear. So, after getting over the disillusionment that my pain tolerance decreased after giving birth, I figured out that learning how to manage the fear is the most desirable behaviour. What does this mean? It means lots of work with my flimsy mind, which will be put to test during the next visit to the dentist – not any time soon. 🙂

I cooked up my future reaction to the fear of pain. That’s what we need to do when we have fears: plan how to circumvent them. So, what I’ll do first is to accept my fear and communicate it to the dentist. Being a woman, it should be easier to confess that I am afraid. If I were a man, probably I’d skip this first step and go ahead to the next one, which is thinking of something joyful while the dentist will be excavating my teeth (i.e., the smile of my baby or me eating Ben&Jerry’s). Last, I’ll keep on saying to myself that the pain is only temporary. I shall see how my mind will be willing to cooperate!