X-rated mind over matter – sports psychology – Brief Article
The use of imagery in sports is not new territory. Sports psychologists have advised athletes that visualizing perfect form can be nearly as effective as practicing it. Well, here’s a new use for fantasy–researchers have shown that the use of sexual imagery can be extremely effective against pain. Increasing pain tolerance can be helpful in situations ranging from a trip to the dentist’s chair to finishing a marathon when the pain of fatigue is screaming in your lungs and thighs to stop.
Forty college students plunged one of their hands into a tank of ice water, holding it there as long as possible. Next the students were randomly assigned to one of four groups, each given different instructions for the use of imagery during the next dip into the ice water. Imagery varied from neutral to sexually stimulating fantasies. Mood, anxiety, and pain were measured during the two painful experiences. The students who were instructed to use sexual fantasy were able to tolerate the pain more than twice as long as baseline. They handled the pain better, actually experiencing less pain. They were also less anxious, depressed, and angry.
The study supported other research that has described an emotional basis for pain. The researchers at Johns Hopkins University concluded that if someone in pain experiences positive emotional feelings, the pain may be felt as less intense. Conversely, if the pain is endured along with anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions, the pain will be perceived as more intense.
Remember this trick the next time you are caught in an unpleasant situation or you could use a little mind over matter to get through something painful or difficult like a race. Sexual fantasies seem to be one of the best ways to escape an unpleasant reality. It just may give you a new personal best and if not, at least it will be a lot more exciting than usual.
(Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, 1999, Division of Pain Medicine, News Release)
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