Chronic pain can be a debilitating experience. Living with pain affects a person more than just physically. Chronic pain also affects a person’s mental and emotional functioning, it causes stress, increases feelings of anxiety, and exhausts the sufferer. In 2012, 25.3 million Americans reported experiencing daily pain. Traditional medical practices have been the most common approach to treating chronic pain with prescription medication. In fact, in 2016, Americans spent $54.1 billion on prescription medication.
For Americans that wish to find alternatives to prescription medication for managing their pain, researchers are recommending the introduction of mindfulness-based practices to their pain management routines.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental state of being consciously present to what is happening in the moment. It is the awareness of what is happening within the body and accepting emotions as one’s own responses and thoughts. Mindfulness is acknowledging where we are in a specific point-in-time. It is recognizing how we are responding to our environment, emotions, and thoughts with no judgement.
How can mindfulness manage chronic pain?
An individual suffering from chronic pain can utilize mindfulness-based practices to allow them to take notice of their pain responses to the present moment. Through the present awareness and observation of the pain they are experiencing, an individual suffering from chronic pain has the ability to:
- Recognize when they are experiencing pain
- For what duration does their pain lasts
- Record and compare the severity of pain they experience each time
- Notice any patterns in their pain responses
By developing a deeper understanding of their pain, an individual suffering from chronic pain is then able to communicate their needs to their doctor more efficiently and effectively. This improves the patient-doctor relationship. This also improves the effectiveness of treatment options their doctor may recommend taking into consideration their particular pain management needs as an individual patient. Treating their chronic pain becomes less and about eliminating their symptoms and more about improving their well-being and functioning.
Mindfulness practices have been shown to improve the health of chronic pain sufferers emotionally and mentally, as well as, physiologically.
Pain increases the level of stress, distress, and anxiety a person feels. Chronic pain can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and fatigue. Individuals that engaged in mindfulness-based meditation alongside traditional medical interventions may experience:
- Less anxiety
- A decrease in depression symptoms
- Improved psychological well-being
- Higher pain tolerance
- Improved sleep quality
- Less pain symptoms
The ability to understand the pain one is feeling allows for the possibility in communicating that pain accurately to others. Improving one’s ability to communicate the pain they are experiencing also improves the probability for effective and long-lasting treatment recommendations and implementation.
Living in the moment reduces the anxiety, stress, and fear of what pain one might experience in the future or how terrible the pain was they experienced in the past. Mindfulness-based practices allow the individual suffering from chronic pain to take control over their response to pain, therefore, allowing them to take back their lives and how they heal from it daily.