Why Does Stress Reduction Matter?
Being in chronic pain is not easy Especially because of the physical and mental strain it produces. Many doctors recommend rest and relaxation as a day-to-day treatment to help the body recover. However, there are better ways to get well than just lying in bed all day if that is the limit of your physical ability.
The mind-body interaction is a conceptualization of how physical and mental health influence each other1– it is hard to think when you are in severe pain all the time, after all. Since your body is in pain, why not target the mind?
Mindfulness-based practices are a broad spectrum of therapies that concentrate on retraining the mind2. These include things like meditation and tai chi, which use very concentrated mental and physical actions in order to focus the awareness away from stressful thoughts and emotions. Meditation is great for those who have just begun their journey towards conquering chronic pain, as it does not require much movement and trains the mind in a more positive way.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a mindfulness-based practice that focuses on acknowledging thoughts and feelings but letting them flow through your consciousness. In the treatment of chronic pain, meditation focuses on targeting the mind-body connection – the way that your mental and physical health influence each other3 .
Mindfulness-based practices target the mind part of the mind-body connection, namely, how thoughts and emotions impact how you feel. Rather than letting the feeling overwhelm you, mindfulness works to retrain your brain not worry about the bodily alarm system and be present in the moment around you4. In other words, you are training your mind to focus less on your pain and instead be mindful of what is around you.
Why Should I Meditate?
Relaxing while in chronic pain is absolutely critical for long-term health, but it can seem almost impossible. Meditation in chronic pain serves as a way of coping with your condition5: instead of letting your brain be bogged down by the body’s alarm system, you are training it to focus on other things.
There are two levels of pain: primary and secondary. Primary pain is the physical experience of it, while secondary is the mental reaction. Because the body in chronic pain cannot stop the primary pain experience, meditation treats the secondary level of pain.
Meditation alone will not cure the experience of pain. However, by targeting the mind aspect of pain, the body portion will be easier to manage. By retraining the brain in this manner, your body will be able to relax more since it will not have to focus so much on mental stressors.
How Can I Meditate?
Different styles of meditation work better for different people. For the treatment of chronic pain, body scan meditation is more effective than other mindfulness practices. In this style, you lay on your back. Start by allowing your mind to acknowledge every part of your body, tensing and relaxing each part as feels comfortable.
Because meditation practices are designed for relaxation, make whatever changes you need to make the process most comfortable for you. Add as many extra pillows and blankets as you need. Guided meditations online can help assist you in mindfulness if you would like extra help doing so.
Stress Reduction Resources
More information on how stress affects each of your body systems from the American Psychological Association.
Free Audio Mindfulness Mediation Guides: helps guide through mindfulness meditation
Four Square Breathing: breathing technique to help calm the body.
1 Morone, N. E., & Greco, C. M. (2007). Mind-Body Interventions for Chronic Pain in Older Adults: A Structured Review: Table 1. Pain Medicine, 8(4), 359–375. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4637.2007.00312.x
2 Abujaradeh, H., Safadi, R., Sereika, S. M., Kahle, C. T., & Cohen, S. M. (2018). Mindfulness-Based Interventions Among Adolescents With Chronic Diseases in Clinical Settings: A Systematic Review. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 32(5), 455–472. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedhc.2018.04.001
3 Lovas, D. A., Pajer, K., Chorney, J. M., Vo, D. X., Howlett, M., Doyle, A., & Huber, A. (2017). Mindfulness for adolescent chronic pain: a pilot feasibility study. Journal of Child & Adolescent Mental Health, 29(2), 129–136. https://doi.org/10.2989/17280583.2017.1355807
4 Waelde, L., Feinstein, A., Bhandari, R., Griffin, A., Yoon, I., & Golianu, B. (2017). A Pilot Study of Mindfulness Meditation for Pediatric Chronic Pain. Children, 4(5), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/children4050032
5 Waldron, S. M., Gauntlett-Gilbert, J., Marks, E., Loades, M. E., & Jacobs, K. (2018). Dispositional Mindfulness and Its Relationship With Distress and Functioning in Adolescents With Chronic Pain and Low-Level Pain. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 43(9), 1038–1046. https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jsy036