All of us experience pain at some stage or the other. Those moments when we are afflicted with pain can throw us completely off balance, we can lose our focus, and we often lose our tempers. There are people who for a variety of reasons deal with chronic pain. Living with chronic pain is a whole different story because there is no break, no escape—it becomes part and parcel of life, unless it is dealt with.
What I have noticed about such people is that very often they are resigned to living with pain and end up accepting it as a natural part of life because it is always present.
A recent Harvard study shows that mind over matter plays a much more crucial role in dealing with chronic pain than it was thought of before. What I am referring to is called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), combining pilates, yoga, and meditation to build awareness and acceptance of moment-to-moment experiences (including pain).
The result of the Harvard study showed that MSBR was as effective as cognitive behaviour Therapy (CBT) which is considered the go-to psychological technique for chronic pain. Both approaches reduced pain and depression and improved physical functioning compared with usual care or no care.
What I find heartening in these results is that the former approach can be done on your own at home as well as under the supervision of a wellness professional. I cannot help think of the story of how Joseph Pilates got attracted to exercise—he had a very sickly childhood and adolescence. He set out to help himself through movement and came up with a system that has grown over a century. Not exactly the same as living with chronic pain, but the process was very similar.
Stress can increase your body’s sensitivity to pain
Negative feelings like depression, anxiety, stress, and anger can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. By learning to take control of stress, you may find some relief from chronic pain.
Several techniques can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Listening to soothing, calming music can lift your mood—and make living with chronic pain more bearable.
Exercise can have pain-reducing effect
Exercising releases endorphins which are brain chemicals that help improve your mood while also blocking pain signals. Exercise techniques like Pilates strengthen muscles, helping prevent re-injury, and further pain.
Working out can help keep your weight down, reduce heart disease risk, and control blood sugar levels—which is especially important if you have diabetes. If you have certain health conditions, your doctor can advise you on the best physical activities for you.
Meditation and deep breathing techniques can help your body relax
This can also help ease pain. Tension and tightness seep from the muscles as they receive a quiet message to relax. Although there are many ways to meditate, the soothing power of repetition is at the heart of some forms of meditation.
Focusing on the breath, ignoring thoughts, and repeating a word or phrase—a mantra—causes the body to relax. While you can learn meditation on your own, it helps to take a class.
Deep breathing is also a relaxation technique. Find a quiet location, a comfortable body position, and block out distracting thoughts. Then, imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon. Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that promotes relaxation.
These steps can help reduce your pain to some extent. But more importantly they may help you realise that you don’t have to accept living with pain is normal.