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How Mindfulness Can Help Manage Chronic Pain

Beth Bradford

2/6/23, 2:20 PM

Mindfulness isn't just for stress reduction or easing anxiety

Chronic pain is a major issue for many adults in the United States, with around one fourth of people suffering from it (per Cleveland Clinic). It can range from arthritis to mental health issues, and it is distinct from acute pain which, for example, we can experience when we stub our toe. To help manage chronic pain, researchers and therapists are turning to mindfulness practices. Studies have shown that mindfulness disrupts signals in the brain that perceive pain and weakens thought loops associated with it.

Mindfulness helps manage stress and improve mental health by disconnecting our opinion from painful experiences (via Mayo Clinic). According to Harvard Medical School, it also helps improve focus and decision making skills by getting rid of distracting thoughts.

The website Mindful suggests using body scan meditation as a simple approach to managing chronic pain. This involves paying attention to sensations throughout the body rather than ruminating on the discomfort in one specific area. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley sugggests the following practice three to six times a week for five minutes each session:

  1. Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down

  2. Notice what's around you, and remind yourself that you're safe

  3. Feel the security and groundedness of the floor or chair, and close your eyes if you'd like

  4. Feel the expansion of your lungs as you take some deep breaths, and notice the contraction of your lungs during the exhale

  5. During each exhale, invite your body to relax

Johns Hopkins Medicine says that mindfulness can be incorporated into everyday activities too, such as taking a minute or two during lunch or while commuting to focus on breathing. Rather than allow your road rage to escalate, tell yourself, "May I be safe," then tell other cars, "May you be safe." This opens up different pathways and perspectives rather than staying on autopilot.

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