Can Mindfulness Really Reduce Chronic Pain?

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“Mind is a flexible mirror, adjust it, to see a better world.” ~ Amit Ray

 

Do you or someone you know suffer with chronic pain? If so, you are not alone. In fact a staggering 20% of Australians live with chronic pain.

But as you might know pain is only part of the problem, with one in five chronic pain sufferers also experiencing anxiety, depression or another mood disorder. Even more concerning is that 21% of all suicide victims were also experiencing a physical health problem.

Memory and concentration can also be affected because of the high levels of stress experienced by the brain. And if you have trouble sleeping then there is added stress, impacting on relationships at home and work. This cycle of physical pain and psychological distress not only impacts on your quality of life, it affects your families quality of life.

What is Chronic Pain?

Your Chronic Pain is a subjective experience, only truly understood by you. This is because pain is not just a physical experience, there are also emotional and cognitive components to pain. Lets look at these briefly:

♦   Physical / sensory pain – This is the response of your body and your nervous system to one or more stimuli that it perceives as noxious, damaging, or dangerous.

♦   Emotional component – How you ‘feel’ about the physical experience of pain. Anger, sadness, fear, frustration, depression, and / or anxiety.

♦   Cognitive component – Your thoughts about how this is affecting your life - the meaning you have attributed to the pain. Thoughts such as; “What about the future”, “I can’t stand this”, “What am I going to do?”

Here's an example: Let’s say you have damaged your back and are unable to work. You can’t even lift your children into their car seats. You are likely to feel frustration, sadness and anger, and you have an increased risk of depression and / or anxiety. Thoughts about how it happened and negative stories about how it will affect your future and what it might mean might occupy your mind.

Together these fears, projections and expectations will exasperate your pain.  

How can Mindfulness Reduce Chronic Pain?

Mindfulness is based on Buddhist meditative practice. It changes your relationship to the pain which can release you from the experience of pain. Then the physical discomfort of your pain often changes as well.

Instead of resisting the pain you open up to it – you welcome it! Mindfulness teaches you to distinguish between pain and suffering. This is key, because pain in life is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

Wow! Really! I hear you say! Pay more attention to my pain? 

Yes! Until now you have wanted your pain to leave. Immediately if possible. And, if you know pain then you have probably experienced the distressing emotion of wanting to separate from your pain, disowning your body – even if for a moment. This is resisting the pain.

The Research

The Buddhist practice of mindfulness has been researched for over 35 years by Zan Kabat-Zinn and his team. Their program referred to as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is taught worldwide. Findings have consistently demonstrated major reductions in symptoms across a wide range of medical conditions, including chronic pain sufferers. This is also the case for patients with a secondary anxiety diagnosis. A stronger resilience to stress has also been evident.

There are now numerous studies from other researches confirming that mindfulness has the unique ability to decrease the intensity of your pain when you pay attention to the pain.

 Begin Your Mindfulness Practice Today with The Body Scan

The body scan is a mindfulness mediation used in the MBSR. It's based on a traditional Burmese practice called sweeping. Sometimes this is confused with the goal of relaxing the body. But meditation isn’t about striving towards an end goal. It’s about attentive awareness - observing what you find moment-to-moment without trying to change anything.

Usually the body scan is practiced lying on your back. You systematically sweep through the body with the mind, bringing a kind and openhearted interest to the various regions.

♥   Starting from the toes of the left foot, moving through each part, the sole, heel, top of the foot. Then up the left leg, ankle, shin, calf, knee, kneecap, thigh, groin and hip. You focus is on both the surface and deep within. Repeat the same for the other leg.

♥   Your focus then moves to the pelvic region, hips again, buttocks, lower back, stomach. Then the upper torso, your upper back, chest, ribs, heart and lungs, shoulder blades, and up to the collarbones and shoulders. Still focusing on the surface and the organs within.

♥   From the shoulders move to the arms. Starting with your fingers and thumbs, slowly move through to the palms, back of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, armpits and shoulders again. Then move to the neck and throat and lastly the face and head.

During this time you are feeling the breath moving in and out of the area of the body you are observing.

♥♥♥ Remember instead of getting caught up in the pain and struggling with it, or trying to distance yourself from it, you are simply observing it. Awareness is about holding the sensations you find without judging them or reacting emotionally.

“Healing our view of the body and allowing it to come to terms, at least to some degree, with conditions as they are in the present moment, in ways that no longer overwhelmingly erode our quality of life, even in the fact of pain or disease.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

You can reduce chronic pain with mindfulness. But remember it is not about trying to get the pain to stop. The focus is on attending to the moment with 'no agenda'. It is when you alter your emotional and evaluative responses to pain that your suffering is alleviated. Equally exciting is you can become more at one with your body and more present in your life. 

 

 

Lets Talk

If you need help with getting on top of chronic pain then please call me for a Free 15 minute consultation. We can talk about what is going on for you and I can answer any questions you might have. If I am with a client I will get back to you as soon as I can.

0403 064 874

kerry.sutton@insynccounselling.com.au

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