Mindfulness and Chronic Pain Management

Mindfulness and Chronic Pain Management
By: Jon Macaskill

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a pain management clinic. I’ve got the usual aches and pains that come with putting in some good “mileage” on my body and I wanted to learn how to physically deal with them better. Turns out, physically dealing with pain is one tool but dealing with the pain with a mindful eye can make a much more dramatic difference in how one feels.

We’ve all heard of the flight or fight response. Well, when dealing with extreme pain, our body goes through the same sets of physiological responses: adrenaline release, heart rate increase, digestion decrease, sweating, muscles tightening and faster breathing to name a few. If we could control these, the level of perceived pain can be reduced. But of these responses, what can we control?

Our breathing and our muscles tensing can be controlled if we’re very intentional and mindful. So, if controlling these in cases of dealing with extreme pain helps to decrease the level of pain perceived, it stands to reason that controlling these in cases of chronic pain would also help to decrease that level of pain perceived.

“But chronic pain is chronic,” you say, “How can we be mindful chronically?” Well, you can’t but you can be mindful more! Sure, you can practice meditation and yoga (both of which I highly recommend and not just for pain management!), but you could also use some tricks to be more mindful throughout your day. Here’s a few I learned about in the clinic and they seem to be doing the trick!

  • Use traffic to your advantage. If you hit a red light, take several slow, deep breaths while you wait for the light to change. Focus on the coolness of the breath entering your nose, the rising of your chest or abdomen and the falling of your chest or abdomen as you breath out the warm air.
  • Set a timer. Literally, set your watch for every hour or so and then do the same trick above for a couple minutes.
  • In the shower, stop and do a mental scan of your body from head to toe. Where do you hurt? Focus for a minute on that pain – but try to think positively about it. Rather than thinking, “Oh man, that hurts so bad I won’t be able to do anything today,” try this: “Even though the pain is bad, these are the things I can still do.” Or, rather than thinking, “I am in so much pain I’m miserable,” try this: “Even though I’m in pain, I can still be happy.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. Try this first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Starting with your legs and then moving by muscle group all the way up your body, tense that muscle group for five to ten seconds, then release the tension and follow with a slow deep breath. Stay relaxed for about 45 seconds and then repeat. Once you’ve done that twice for each muscle group, progressively move up the body and do it until you’ve used every muscle group.

I’ve benefitted greatly from applying all these lessons and my hope is that my sharing of these very simple mindfulness based exercises, at least a few can gain a better quality of life through mentally managing their perceived pain. May you be kind, may you be mindful, and may you be blessed!

Jon Macaskill is a career Navy Seal Commander and a mindfulness practitioner. You can learn more about him and connect with him here

This post was originally published on LinkedIn