Pain and especially chronic pain can take over your life, making it seem like the dark days will never end and this is the new normal you better get used to. Many of my patients feel this way after sometimes years of pain and unanswered questions. Anecdotally, I have seen a correlation between my patient’s pain tolerance and ability to quiet their mind, or mindfulness. Being more connected to your body and learning to efficiently face life’s hardships can have a significant impact on how you live your life, with pain as a component.
Meditation and mindfulness conjure up pictures of people in robes chanting and spending hours sitting quietly on the floor. As I myself have been implementing this practice of mindfulness into my daily routine, I can tell you that sometimes I lie down, or sit or even walk to reach a state of mindfulness. You don’t’ have to spend hours contemplating nothing, it could be as little as 15 minutes a day to help get yourself removed from the difficulties of life. Another component that I was happy to learn about was that mindfulness and meditation isn’t about getting all thoughts out of your head, which ended up making me think more about my thoughts and why was I thinking so much when I shouldn’t be thinking at all. If you ask most people that they have to stop thinking then their brains go into hyper drive and think about more things, at a quicker rate, than if you had just let them sit and be. As I’ve learned from the great application, Headspace, the practice of meditation and mindfulness is more about acknowledging the thought but then letting it pass on. Thoughts will be there but it’s important to not percolate on them. Now do you see how mindfulness meditation might help with dealing with pain?
While I have seen the positive impact of learning to quiet the mind time and time again with my patients, research is starting to back up these claims of the impact of mindfulness. The latest issue of Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy has an article assessing people’s emotional distress, stress and self-compassion before and after an 8-week training in mindfulness administered by a non-psychologist clinician and found positive results in people’s outlooks. Another article recently published in the Journal of Sports Medicine examined the positive impact of mindfulness training in athletes correlating to improved precision sports. It helps make the mind sharp to face the challenge ahead.
Another great researcher and author, Daniel Ariely, who suffered 3rd degree burns over 70% of his body talks in many of his books about how changing this mindset of the treatments, helping him to get back to the life he wanted, allowed him to undergo painful burn treatments for years. This is something he has also proven in many experiments where he finds a correlation between people feeling there is a purpose for their injuries, like veterans, and a significantly higher pain tolerance than people that see no reason for their pain or dysfunction or have terminal illness. When Ariely volunteered for an experimental drug treatment of hepatitis C he had contracted while undergoing the burn treatments, he was the only one in the trial to take the drug with terrible side effects for the duration of the study and always on time. He attributes this to the positive spin he put on his treatments by always getting many movies to watch, a favorite past time, while the nasty side effects took effect. His brain focused on the joy he had with being able to lie in bed for hours and watch movies, a luxury he didn’t have as a busy college student, rather than the flu like symptoms he had every time he took the medications. As a result, he was cured from hepatitis C and was brought some joy in the process.
It’s all how you frame the pain and discomfort in your mind that can allow you to move forward. The brain is a powerful organ that can make or break the healing process. Learning to train the brain, like any other muscle, can have a positive impact on how you view your recovery and general outlook on life. Try quieting the brain to quiet the pain.