It's horrendous, obviously painful, often debilitating and causes a plethora of other issues when conventional treatments fail. Chronic pain sufferers commonly experience anything from anxiety and depression to pain medication side-effects and addiction.
All of this on top of excruciating pain that can't seem to be controlled. Using the mindfulness approach for chronic pain may be just what the doctor didn't know to order.
Mindfulness is, in a nutshell, paying close attention and maintaining direct focus. Being unafraid to gracefully embrace a moment, good or bad, and know that it's okay to let it go. Yes, it sounds terrifying to a chronic pain sufferer to pay more attention to the pain. Don't stop reading! It will become clear how mindfulness for chronic pain can be highly advantageous and even help eradicate pain almost completely when practiced properly.
Practical Mindfulness Methods
A common relaxation technique over the years has been to tense up each part of the body, individually, count to 10, and then release your hold. The object is to notice exactly how tense you were to begin with, and to physically feel the tension go away. You would typically start from head to toe and gradually work your way down each body part until your entire body is completely relaxed.
For instance, you could start with your face by crinkling your forehead, squeezing your eyes together, pursing your lips and clenching your teeth. Inhale through your nose, hold the tension as tight as you can for 10 seconds and then slowly exhale through your mouth. Feel the muscles relax in your face and head.
Feel the tension and stress leave your body. Notice how you can actually feel the blood start to move again and how revitalized yet relaxed and calm it makes you feel. How completely aware you feel. This is the same premise as mindfulness for chronic pain.
The idea is to get closer to the pain, acknowledge it, appreciate it, and let it leave. Accept that the pain is there, without judgment, which is the hardest part really. Naturally we associate chronic pain and all that tags along with it as negative.
Focus On the Relief From Pain
But just for this exercise, try and view it neutrally. Shake hands with the pain as if it's the first time you're meeting a new neighbor. Visualize the pain. And when you exhale, let the pain move on. Substantial pain relief may not be immediate, but if you are mindful and continue practicing mindfulness for chronic pain, the decrease in pain will gradually happen. It takes practice and focus, but it's well worth the reward considering the damage other treatment modalities can potentially cause to your body, mind and spirit.
It also helps to alter your mindset on the pain itself. Your approach should be to understand your pain, individually describe the sensations you notice with and without the mindfulness exercises, and create a deeper awareness of balance.
If you enter this with the only idea that your pain needs to be "fixed", if you aren't extremely successful on your first shot of meditation, your mind will interpret that as "failure". And mindfulness for chronic pain is so much more than simple success and/or failure.
Mindfulness will help you achieve a more accurate perception of the pain. You essentially retrain your brain to calculate pain differently. Think about it; your mind doesn't actually feel the pain, but it sure tells you on a scale how bad it might feel.
In order for your brain to differentiate the intensity of pain, it first had to send signals all the way down to the core of the pain, which was then interpreted as even greater pain. It's like poking a really bad bruise. Ouch!
Mindfulness and Pain Connection
Food for thought: Mindfulness for chronic pain isn't about eradicating pain. Mindfulness is a phenomenal and powerful modality to help you live a full life even with the pain. Your focus is no longer on the outside obstacles but on accepting what's going on inside your body and having a different relationship with it.
You can choose your reactions, believe it or not, and mindfulness for chronic pain assists in just that. With practice and determination, you can and will alter your pain response. Think of all the added benefits like less narcotic pain medication, less chance for addiction to medications, as well as decreased anxiety and depression symptoms.
What about the fact that you can begin again to live a meaningful, active life without spending the majority of energy on avoiding any pain breakthrough?
Mindfulness for chronic pain has endless potential and the results can affect multiple areas of your life. There's really no reason not to try it.