Chronic pain affects approximately 116 million Americans. Often chronic pain is debilitating, both physically and psychologically. The typical treatment for chronic pain is pain medication, many of which can be addictive, and lose their potency as our bodies develop a tolerance to them. while pharmacological treatment helps a significant number of people, for enduring pain psychological treatments have begun to emerge as the treatment of choice, as numerous studies have come out showing new psychological treatments to be effective. The most researched of these treatments, is mindfulness-based therapy.
Mindfulness is a practice borrowed from Buddhism by cognitive psychologists due to the many beneficial effects it can have on the mind and body, including reducing pain. How does it work you ask? The short version is that mindfulness works by helping people simply notice their pain, rather than get caught up in trying to eliminate it, which causes frustration, and paradoxically, increased pain.
Usually we try to distract from it, which is very, very difficult to do. When we're not distracting, we're spending all of our energy struggling with it - wishing it weren't there, getting angry at it, etc. None of this is helpful. It just adds additional suffering to what is already a painful experience.
The mindful approach is to allow the pain to be there. Rather than trying (somehow) to make it go away through sheer will, just notice it, and make space for it. Dropping the struggle with the pain can provide a lot of relief.
While you're allowing the pain to be there, just sit with it, and notice it. Put words to the experience. Where is the pain? Is it tingling? Is there pressure? Where does it begin and end in your body? Are there warm parts? Cool parts? By describing the experience without adding a lot of catastrophizing and negative judgment, we experience the pain in a new way. A lot of people report that just the mere act of sitting with pain and describing it, eliminates the pain entirely. A friend recently used this approach when he was having his wisdom teeth extracted... without anesthesia. He reported he noticed pain, but relating to it in this way made it tolerable. Just another event in his body that he was noticing, like the hiccups, or a yawn.
It definitely takes practice, but with a little effort you can transform pain into something that is much more tolerable, and creates much less suffering.
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