How can you make pain less painful?

Image courtesy of Ambro / freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro / freedigitalphotos.net

I’ve had a chronic pain condition since my 20s and am really fortunate in that it now affects me less than 10% of the time and I know how to manage it (mostly).

I remember hearing Maya Angelou’s ‘Just because you’re IN pain doesn’t mean you have to BE a pain’ when I experienced pain for most of every day and I wanted to not be a pain but, to be honest, I was.

Still, I do my best to take better care of myself when impacted and to do all sorts of self-care things (from eating better to ensuring enough sleep and getting as much exercise as possible) as well as ensuring I have a healthy supply of painkillers.

Because I’ve had this for a long time, I am used to it. But when I had a different kind of pain the other day (broken tooth. On a CRISP of all things), even though I’ve had far worse tooth issues and other types of pain, this really impacted my mood.

I felt broken and elderly. I couldn’t even cycle to the pool for an early morning swim because the cold made it agony. When my superstar dentist fixed it, I almost hugged him (instead I went back with a more appropriate Thank You card and box of chocs). I felt whole again and able to do things (and I treated myself to an afternoon swim).

I know lots of people struggle with different types of physical as well as emotional pain on a daily basis. If you’re one of them, think about the things that help you most.

I’m going to hear Jon Kabat-Zinn (the guy credited with bringing mindfulness meditation to a secular audience) today and love the research around mindfulness helping with pain management. Mindfulness can actually change our experience of pain.

I learned about this during my yoga therapy for mental health training and, as I continue to work with The Minded Institute (doing social media, PR etc), I get to learn about developments in this exciting field.

Kabat-Zinn’s research in 1982 demonstrated that mindfulness meditation could substantially reduce short and long term chronic pain. In 2012, Tim Gard et al found that participants were able to reduce anxiety around pain by 29% when in a mindful state.

Because mindfulness meditation changes the brain (increasing our capacity for neuroplasticity as well as impacting the lateral prefrontal cortex, right posterior insula and rostral anterior cingulate cortex) it can also change our experience of and relationship to pain.

And my psychosynthesis counselling training taught me that rememembering that we are more than our pain (or anything else we might be struggling with) can itself shift our relationship to it.

But it can take practice. Personally speaking, while I know that it’s good for me and do know how to persevere, I find it much easier to be mindful and embodied when I’m feeling strong and healthy than when weak and vulnerable and in pain.

If you’re new to mindfulness, maybe listening to a Body Scan will be a nice, relaxing introduction. It’s just something to explore.

Anything that helps you relax will have benefits for your pain as stress exacerbates so many painful conditions. And ultimately, you know yourself and your pain best.

Get into the habit of asking yourself what will help you most right now and do all you can to support yourself.

Much love xx

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