Why use mindfulness to manage pain?
A persistent sensation of pain in the body? Have you noticed that this pain refuses to leave despite all the painkillers you have been taking for a while? I know how challenging it is to live with chronic pain. Both physically and psychologically, the pain drains you out. One becomes prone to experience depression, mood fluctuations, and anxiety. Even taking pain killers proves to be ineffective after a while, and you are back to the square one trying to fight off the same pain.
Once and for all, the power to alter pain is in your hands because there is enough scientific evidence to indicate that mindfulness is an effective intervention to help you cope with pain. As you keep reading, you learn more about how being mindful alters your relationship with pain.
Use mindfulness to tackle the complex nature of chronic pain
Pain is a natural expression of the human body to detect dangers and threats in the environment. For instance, you experience pain when you fall while playing cricket or when there is a cut on your finger. No, we aren’t talking about pain that lasts for a short time. We are looking into physical and psychological pain, which is enduring in nature and lasts for weeks altogether. If left untreated, this kind of chronic pain can lead to many health problems such as sleep disturbances, low immunity, depression, anxiety, etc.
As already mentioned, the burden of chronic pain is closely connected to the mind. Research shows that chronic pain is associated with negative emotions and depression. Among people with chronic pain, it is observed that there are low levels of glutamate in the body, and this impairs the ability to process positive emotions. Due to decreased glutamate levels, people tend to become fearful, pessimistic, and critical of themselves, and the development of such adverse reactions tends to worsen the painful experiences.
You can now understand that chronic pain is constituted by a complex intermesh of physical and emotional pain. Mindfulness is proven to be a holistic and effective intervention to manage the thoughts, emotions, and behaviours linked to chronic pain.
What science says about practising mindfulness for pain reduction?
Mindfulness induces biological changes that alter our experience of pain. In 2009, a study showed that the mindful states generated in the meditation sessions lower the respiration rate. The slowing down of the respiratory rate helps to modulate and reduce the intensity of pain.
Meditators would be able to observe and stay non-reactive to one’s own experiences. Likewise, a more extensive research review compiled scientific articles from 1960-2010 to study the effects of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) on pain intensity. The conclusion of the report suggests that using MBIs significantly reduces the intensity of chronic pain.
Mindfulness not only lowers the sensory experience of pain; it alters our affective responses to chronic pain. In a study conducted by Jon Kabat-Zin, mindfulness is used as a tool for training patients to change their emotional responses to chronic pain. Most importantly, it is seen that if mindfulness techniques are used, there is a more significant reduction in mood disturbances and symptoms of mental disorders. Most interestingly, the psychological improvements seen in the patients lasted for a total of 15 months.
Another similar study also affirms that practising mindfulness brings long-lasting improvements. In this study, it is observed that there was no immediate improvement among people who practised mindfulness techniques to treat chronic pain. However, people reported significant psychological improvements after 12 weeks.
Chronic pain is not just a physiological experience; it is much more than that. It is essential to acknowledge that chronic pain is a multidimensional experience in which your thoughts and emotions determine how you perceive and respond to pain. To alter your relationship with pain, it is necessary to practice mindfulness. As you do so, you notice that you can efficiently manage your thoughts and emotions. As a result, your relationship with pain transforms for the better.