Chances are if you follow my blog you may struggle with some type of chronic pain disorder (or you are an awesome supportive friend!). In the past few years as I have been dealing with my own painful diagnosis, I have found that most people in my life have some sort of relationship with chronic pain. It is the consistent annoyance that is playing in the background of our lives, restricting activities and feeding into depression and anxiety.
I am not a stranger to pain. In fact, I am somewhat of an expert. Not the topic I was hoping to be an expert in, during my mid 30’s but you take what life hands you and try to make the best of it. For those of you that are new to this blog, I was diagnosed with CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) which is a neurological disorder rated higher than natural childbirth and amputation on the McGill Pain Scale. At some point along the way, I also developed and was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (which most times is hidden under the extreme conditions of CRPS). Sadly I am constantly spending my days trying to maneuver around pain in the least abrasive manner, careful not to anger the beast that lies just below the surface.
How can mindfulness/meditation help with pain management?
When I tell people that I use mindfulness/meditation for pain management this conversation looks like this:
“One of the most effective pain management tools I have is using meditation to lessen the pain”-Me
“How does that work?” An inquiring friend who thinks I may have unleashed the world’s secret of managing pain.
“I start by focusing in on the pain and where the source of the pain is coming from.”
followed by thoughts of “crazy granola, hippie, earth child” by the friend who now believes I am certifiably insane.
Why would we want to do that? Why would we want to focus on the very thing that brings us pain? That makes us uncomfortable? The simple answer to that is that when we don’t resist the pain, it lessens its grip on us.
When we are in pain the first thing we want to do is move away from it. Escape it. Make it go away. The pain, signals feelings of physical and emotional discomfort that prohibits a person from looking, feeling and performing their best. In our American Culture we reach instantly for pills that we may have stashed in our purses, medicine cabinets and drawers at work. We don’t even think twice before sprinkling a few tablets onto our palm and washing it down with a drink of water. For many people this method may work temporarily but when the medication wears off our symptoms are once again present.
Pain. Negative thoughts. Anxiety. Depression. Pain. Repeat.
The presence of pain also brings on reminiscing thoughts about how the pain will effect us, which is negative in nature. Those thoughts or judgements of our pain do not help us move out of the situation. Instead they fuel the pain by feeding into Depression and Anxiety, which are often present for individuals in chronic pain. From there the pain cycle gets kicked up another notch and around and around we go….
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel that I get stuck in the pain cycle for days, weeks and even months when I am dealing with a flare. If you have been there or are there now, you know this is not a good place to be. It affects our mobility, our jobs, roles and relationships. Knowing what I do about my pain and watching close friends engulfed in a pain cycle is heart breaking. Sure, you might think that this idea, meditation/mindfulness as pain management may sound hooey. But what do you have to lose? At some point we all try things that are a little bizarre in hopes of diminishing the excruciating levels of pain.
“The biggest difficulty in working with pain is not the pain itself, it is our reaction to it.” (Source)
Beginner’s Steps to Mindfulness for Pain Management.
- When pain arises in the body, instead of jumping on the pain cycle and ruminating thoughts, try grounding yourself by focusing on your breath
- This can help your body move into the pain and release the tight grip.
- Breathe in slowly…. breathe out slowly…
- Become aware of your pain and investigate it.
- Be aware of any thoughts or attitudes about pain that emerge. Do you resent the pain? Loathe it’s existence, are you unkind to yourself for participating in an activity that caused you pain?
- Become aware of the sensations of pain. How would you describe it (using non-judgmental words).
- Does it burn? Tingle? Shoot? Radiate? Ache?
- Where is the source of this pain?
- Sometimes when we investigate, we find that our pain may not be where we perceive it
- Example: When I have a headache my temples may hurt but when I use meditation and mindfulness I can trace the pain past the temples, behind the ear, down the neck and into a tense knot in my left shoulder.
- Investigate the pain at the source.
- Is it coming from tension?
- Is it moving? and if so, can you chase the pain? (this happens often to me and it is incredible how I can follow pain that originated in my foot, up through my leg, around my back and back down. The pain changes size, intensity and shape).
- Are there ways to lessen this tension by slowing your breath? or picturing your muscles letting go.
- Visualizing this pain and imagine it is shrinking
- If the intensity of pain becomes too much, switch your focus to another part of the body that is neutral. After a few moments, return to the pain. This may take a few times of back and forth.
- Be kind to yourself
- You are doing something that is very brave. You are facing your pain head on. It will be uncomfortable and it takes practice. I have been practicing mindfulness and meditation daily for almost 2 years and there are days when the pain is too great for me to focus on it and this is okay.
- Allow yourself the space to breathe
Guided Meditations from Insight Timer (aka: the best app on earth!)
- My favorite app on my phone is called Insight Timer. It is a free meditation app which provides guided meditations, music, timers with bells (for those that do not wish to use a guidance). Download it today! I have listed my personal favorites from this app. I hope you enjoy! (Search within the app). You can also add me as a friend within the app. Kelly, The Invisible Warrior in Virginia. It is reassuring to know that others are meditating with you and you are not alone with your pain.
- Search Body Scan (there are numerous ones!) Start with a 20 minute body scan. Practice this daily. After 2 weeks of practicing a body scan, I was more in tuned to my body and could stop pain before it spiraled out of control
- Meditation for Headaches by Celia Roberts. It is a guided meditation on the Insight Timer. 12 minutes long and typically reduces or gets completely rid of my headaches!
- Healing Relaxation by Lisa Hubler. One of my favorites
- Peaceful Sleep by Aluna Moon (for those nights when you can’t get to sleep)
- Deep Relaxation and Ease in the Body by Stephanie Nash
- Journey through Pain by Anthony Hobson
- Coming Home to Being by Tara Brach (any of Tara’s meditations are fantastic!)
- Head to Toe Body Relaxation by Robin Bryne (perfect for beginners)
- Brief Healing Visualization by Robert Farrior
- A Beautiful Place byMark Belinsky
I hope these guidelines are helpful for you as you begin your week. If you have any experience with using mindfulness/meditation with pain please feel free to leave a comment.
With Much Metta (loving-kindness) and gentle hugs,