In nursing school, I was taught early on that pain is the fifth vital sign. We ask our patients to rate pain on a scale of 0-10 & answer questions about location, onset, & intensity to find the best treatment plan. Sometimes, pain is the only window into understanding what we may not otherwise see on the surface. Of course, we can order lab tests that show when blood counts are off or take a temperature to indicate a fever, but what about the problems that can’t be deciphered so objectively?
We’re programmed to avoid painful things. Have you ever stepped on an earring, then felt your body immediately tense up & pull away? Have you taken a hot tray out of the oven too quickly & ended up with a kitchen floor covered in sugar cookies, or pulled a muscle during a run & found yourself limping for the rest of the day? We have simple, mechanical reflexes like these built-in to protect ourselves from pain because pain is our universal way of recognizing that something is wrong. It tells us that we ate too much for dinner or that we shouldn’t have tried to lift those heavy boxes on our own. It warns us that if we go back to the same people who caused us pain the last time, we’re likely to experience it again. It’s subjective & experienced at different thresholds for different people. Pain is the only indicator that’s uniquely our own.
But, maybe we should stop simply associating pain with the negative experiences that it’s caused by. In many ways, pain is how we find ways to heal & better ourselves. We learn to not walk barefoot in the house, to wear oven mitts, & to stop eating when our bodies tell us we’re full. We delete the texts & photos that remind us of the people who hurt us, & let go of memories that prevent us from moving forward. It’s time we realize that pain is not a weakness, but a chance for growth.
Whether it’s a personal, professional, or health & fitness journey that we’re currently on, we’re bound to make mistakes along the way. This may be frustrating at times — & that’s okay, too. Nobody is perfect, & the more we learn from our own missteps, the more we get to improve ourselves for the better. When we’ve finally reached our goals & had the chance to look back, it’ll feel so much better knowing that we’ve conquered every challenge it took to get there.
During the month of New Year’s resolutions (& for the next eleven months afterward), challenge yourself to embrace the pain. Learn to love it & thrive in it. By recognizing our pain, we find solutions to the problems that seem insurmountable at first & empower ourselves to change for the better.