Suffering from pain, especially when it is long term, can quickly become frustrating.
Pain affects our ability to move, think and generally function in everyday life. However, using aspects of mindfulness can help to cope with the stress and frustration that accompanies chronic pain.
The experience of pain is often coupled with thoughts – or judgments – such as: “Why am I experiencing this now? How am I supposed to get things done? I hate this feeling, this is horrible.”
Eventually these thoughts can turn into rumination, increasing frustration and anxiety, and exacerbating the experience of the pain.
Mindfulness involves paying attention to something on purpose and without judgment. The more aspects of mindfulness are practised, the easier it can be to pull away from the judgmental thoughts surrounding our chronic pain.
There are a few different ways to practise mindfulness in association with our experience of pain.
A body scan involves purposefully paying attention to each part of the body to see what is happening.
When coming to a part experiencing pain, instead of immediately reacting to it, try monitoring the pain and approaching it with curiosity.
Try to identify what type of pain it is. Is it tingling? Is it hot? Is it cold? Does the sensation or intensity change over time?
Approaching pain in this way allows the person to separate themselves from the pain, and see that it does often change somewhat over time, and may come in waves. This allows a separation from the idea that the pain is permanent, or will not “go away”.
When pain is high, it can be helpful to use that same attention to focus on something that is less distressing. This could including focusing all of your attention towards a game (such as on your smartphone or computer) for a little while, reading a book or focusing on a part of your body that does not hurt in that moment.
Additionally, using mindfulness to focus on things in your environment, instead of inside your body, can provide welcome relief.
If you find that rumination and judgmental thoughts seem to come hand-in-hand with your experience of pain, doing some deep breathing can be very helpful.
Slow, deep breathing helps to slow the heart rate, puts the brakes on the body’s stress response and decreases feelings of anxiety that accompany pain.
To practise this, try breathing in deeply and slowly over about four to eight seconds while mentally stating the word “in”. Then, after holding your breath for about four seconds, breathe out over eight seconds while mentally stating the word “out”.
Some of the mindfulness techniques may work better for others than they do for you, so be patient.
Because chronic pain is a daily challenge, it can take time to fully take on the idea of accepting the pain in the moment with judgment.
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.