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Previous lessons have explained that relaxation training, meditation, and biofeedback are among the best treatments for pain because they establish a state of calm and relaxation, which is the opposite of the fight or flight response to pain. By defusing the emotional component of pain, these techniques can greatly reduce our suffering. The techniques also have many beneficial side effects, such as reducing anxiety and stress, and promoting greater peace and calm. One problem with these techniques is that it can be hard to apply them in overwhelmingly intense situations. For example, when we are in severe acute pain, it can be very difficult to move from body part to body part and progressively relax the muscles. A similar situation occurs when we are about to give an important public talk and we are trying to calm our anxieties. It would be nice if there were some way we could automatically invoke calm and relaxation in these intense and difficult situations. Some researchers have had great success with the use of a "cue stimulus". A cue stimulus is something that sets the stage for a response because the two have been paired in the past. For example, if you always eat popcorn when you go to the movies, then the next time you go to the movies you will feel hungry for popcorn. The movies are a cue stimulus for eating popcorn. Similarly, if you like to relax with a glass of wine, the wine becomes a cue stimulus for relaxation. Because the wine has been paired with relaxation in the past, it will help you relax regardless of its drug effect. The key is that the cue stimulus should be reliably paired with the response in the past. Herbert Benson, originator of the term "relaxation response", recommends pressing together the thumb and middle finger of one hand as a cue stimulus for relaxation.  For example, when you do your  relaxation training and become very relaxed, press together the thumb and middle finger of one hand. This is an excellent technique because the hand gesture is unusual, and won't remind you of anything besides relaxation. Later on, when you are in a stressed situation and you feel the need to relax, you can perform this gesture and your body will automatically relax. Try this for yourself.  Use relaxation training, meditation, or biofeedback to enter a very relaxed state. Then press your fingers together as described above. If you practice this over several sessions, you will have a "cue stimulus" you can use to create relaxation in painful or stressful situations. Some cue stimuli are potentially much more powerful than others. For example, tastes and smells are processed by a primitive, emotional part of the brain. Certain disgusting smells can make us wretch automatically, while other soothing smells can relax and delight us. One of our clients tells a story of when she was a child, she would come running from miles away when she smelled her mom's fried chicken. You probably can remember similar events from your childhood, when a smell invoked a particularly strong emotion. Why not use one of these pleasing aromas as a cue stimulus for relaxation?  That way, we have the intrinsic calming effect of the smell, and the benefit of pairing it with relaxation. ================================================= The AromaFocus Kit - Combining Aromatherapy and Meditation Aromatherapy involves the use of aromatic, essential oils for health benefits. Certain essential oils are reputed to have calming, stress relieving effects. Anything that can reduce the emotional component of pain should be able to soothe our suffering, so these essential oils should reduce pain to the extent that they can replace the fight or flight defensive reflex of pain with peace and calm. Among the essential oils recommended for their pain relief and calming properties are frankincense, lavender, and sweet marjoram. AromaFocus (tm) involves the use of these oils as a cue stimulus for the benefits of relaxation, meditation, or biofeedback. You can purchase an AromaFocus kit that includes an instruction booklet and a small vial of specially blended essential oils. The booklet teaches you how to do relaxation training and meditation, and how to use the essential oils to enhance and extend the benefits of these practices to pain relief. © 2016 by Dr. Ken Pfeiffer

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