Mindfulness as pain management

You would easily be forgiven for not knowing that the original scientific studies around mindfulness and stress reduction were in relation to chronic pain sufferers. We hear so much of mindfulness as a sort of spiritual Sudoku or as a chill-zone gateway that we may forget or neglect to utilize its deep therapeutic benefits to life’s serious problems – from trauma recovery to chronic pain management to alleviating emotional and thought-pattern complications.

In relation to chronic pain including fibromyalgia we can find in it a very useful resource – not just for management of pain but for redirection in our life away from pain. I will often post something that says ‘coping with …’ and what ever the ‘….’ is (dandruff, candida, winter vomiting bug) I will give health tips to treat it – but when it comes to chronic pain I don’t like the idea of coping with. Because you can do more than cope. You can move beyond.

I know pain; I’ve fallen down enough mountainsides, out of enough trees and had enough bike spills and other tendon shredding, bone-breaking, dislocating, nerve-damaged incidences requiring months and in one case years of rehabilitation. The heavy duty drugs from the GP and the leaflet with a support group number is the traditional coping strategy within conventional medicine. Nothing against support groups – there do amazing work that should be funded as part of a functioning health care system – but sometimes they are the GPs exit strategy from your continued care. And yes some GPs are brilliant and invested and pull out all the stops despite institutionalized obstacles but some haven’t a clue about what fibromyalgia is actually like for a patient beyond a textbook definition and some don’t want to know – “next!”.

For me – I used herbs and foods to regulate my recovery and I leaned into breath control, mindful exercises and positive psychology to get my mind-set right, to go beyond coping and take charge. I still have residual pain and nerve flare ups but my emotions and thoughts don’t flare up with it and without the chemistry of anger and frustration in my bloodstream I find the episodes no long disrupt my life – I may lose a few minutes or an hour or two to a sensation episode or even a day or more if my back clicks out but after the fact I am back on track quick. And during the fact I am often still working, still listening to music, still cooking, still gardening, still laughing and having my life. Ok it’s not easy for everyone to switch into a different mode and it took me time to get there but it’s so worth the baby steps if you fear the strides.

What’s the deal – there are quite a few techniques and I will post plenty (Search under keywords pain and fibro) but firstly here I just wanted to look at some of the overall benefits of mindful practices which not only help adjust how your brain perceives pain but which also negate the frustration, irritability, depression and anxiety/stress that often accompanies chronic persistent pain.

In recent years mindfulness techniques have become validated and utilized as tools for mental and physical health by health professionals and support groups globally. Mindfulness improves mental health by giving us control over our mind by allowing us to choose to calmly respond or simply let go of thoughts arising before they become deep seated feelings.

The acceptance and letting go processes in mindfulness cuts out the aversion and avoidance cycles that add to psychological disturbance, stop the thought from becoming a feeling and forming an emotional hook into your brain and how you experience the world. The breathe techniques are grounding and the embracement of forgiveness, loving kindness and gratitude can reframe self-worth and also perception of the world.

Councillors and psychotherapists often recommend mindfulness meditation to treat depression, anxiety disorders, addiction / substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm and other obsessive-compulsive behaviour but it is brilliant for pain control and pain perception and to address how we react to our pain. how to better respond rather than react.

Mindfulness practices improve physical health by relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, releasing endorphins, improving sleep, providing a sense of wellbeing and happiness. GPs and support groups often advocate mindfulness for a range of medical conditions. apart from the physical benefits of summoning a sense of wellbeing , mindfulness lets you Know yourself and be yourself rather than be defined by your illness – mental or physical. Mindfulness takes away a mind full of adversity and emotional clutter and allows a purer you to find peace, clarity and resilience – to have the capacity for life – there is nothing more healing than that.

With chronic pain, mindfulness helps us notice those processes which switch on flare ups and catch quickly the triggers that amp up the volume of pain and distress. Mindfulness can also help loosen the emotional impact of pain and loose the time we spend in its company, helping us notice it but not dwell in it, feel it but not be felled by it. There are techniques to help dissolve pain and I will explore that too but for now taking a chance or making a change is empowering. Investigating mindfulness as a pain solution will give you input into how you live not just with your condition but live beyond it

If you need a bit of inspiration to take the step toward a change of mindset and a more lived life- see http://bit.ly/by-time-change

About The Holistic Gardener

author of wellness books, columnist, keynote speaker.
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