5 Ways Mindfulness Can Help You Manage Your Pain

Mindfulness Can Lessen Pain Using These 5 Techniques

If you are suffering from chronic pain, mindfulness is a valuable complementary therapy to traditional pain management methods, as it is a proven way to reduce pain and improve overall quality of life. Try these simple techniques listed below the next time you have intense pain, and experience for yourself, how they can lessen the pain and improve your life.

If you're an individual who is living with chronic pain, you know first hand how debilitating it can be. Chronic pain can make it hard to focus, sleep, and simply find enjoyment in life. But there is always hope. Mindfulness is a proven way to reduce pain and improve your quality of life and it is available to you anytime, anywhere!

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without added judgment or commentary. It's a state of being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without getting caught up in them. When one is being mindful, they are not trying to change their experience, they’re just simply observing it.

Although simple in theory, this can be a challenging practice, especially when you're in pain. But it's worth trying it. After all there are no side effects and it does not cost you anything.

According to research, mindfulness can help you to:

  • Reduce the intensity and frequency of pain

  • Improve your mood and sleep

  • Increase your ability to cope with stress

  • Enhance your overall well-being

Here are five simple mindfulness techniques that can help provide relief from pain:

1. Mindful breathing

Mindful breathing is one of the simplest and also the most effective ways to quickly reduce pain. When you focus your attention on your breath, you are bringing your attention into the present moment, and away from your pain. This will not take the pain away completely. However, it will inevitably give you more space from the overwhelming experience of your pain, and likely give you a momentary reprieve from the pain as well. You are not your pain. You are a person with a body, who is experiencing physical pain in that body. This is an important distinction that mindfulness helps us become more aware of.

In order to practice mindful breathing, make yourself as comfortable as possible, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes or soften the gaze, and begin to take a few deep breaths. Noticing the coolness of the breath as it flows into the nose, the warmth as it flows out, the rising and the falling of your chest and belly, and the expansion and contraction of the back body as your lungs expand with each breath. This beautiful breath, coping mechanism, tool that is with you always. See if you can follow an entire breath from the start of the inhale, all the way through to the exhale. And then one more. Let the thoughts come and go, trying not to follow or engage with them. Try to keep refocusing your attention on your breath again and again.

Continue to breathe mindfully for a few minutes. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath without any judgment. For some, listening to guided breathing exercises can be helpful.

2. Body scan

The body scan is another incredibly helpful mindfulness tool that can be soothing for pain relief. When a person scans their body using a body scan, it brings their attention to each individual part of the body, from head to toe. Many notice areas of tension or holding that may be adding to their level of pain. Once tension is located, we can imagine breathing into those areas (or surrounding areas) releasing any pain that we are adding, by tensing around the painful area(s).

To practice the body scan technique, find a comfortable position for your body. Close your eyes and bring your attention to all the points of your body resting on the chair, floor, bed etc. Notice any sensations in the body pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. Begin to focus on scanning the body (usually head to toe or toe to head) and move through each part feeling into and mentally relaxing or softening that particular area. If it is too painful in a certain spot to soften or relax, focus on softening the surrounding areas around the pain.

For instance, bring your attention to your feet. Feel into the soles of both feet, the heels, arches, pads, toes. Then, feel the tops of your feet and move up the leg and continue working up the body mentally.

Continue to bring your attention to each part of your body, from your toes to your head or head to toes. Notice any sensations, and breathe into any pain or surrounding areas of pain with self-compassion.

The body scan helps us to refocus our attention on other parts of the body, often giving a little mental space from our pain or momentary reprieve from the pain level. It also helps us to become aware of ways in which we may be contributing to our pain by tensing the body and resisting the painful sensations.

3. Present moment awareness

Present moment awareness also more broadly known as "Mindfulness" is the practice of bringing your attention to the present moment you are actually experiencing without any need for anything to be different than it is. When you're truly experiencing the present moment, you are not thinking about your past or your future. You're just witnessing your moment by moment experience and bodily sensations.

This can be especially challenging, when you're in a lot of pain. But if you are willing to try it within these overwhelming moments, you will find it very useful. There is nothing wrong with the current moment even if it includes pain, this is just your body in this moment. When you focus your attention on the present moment, you're much less likely to get carried away in your thoughts and feelings surrounding your pain. You're also able to find joy in the small things in your life, yes even while you're still in pain.

To practice present moment awareness, find a comfortable position for you and your body. Notice your surroundings, take in the textures, colors patterns and small details you may have been overlooking prior. Like a scientist never having experienced your environment, become incredibly curious and observant. Next, close your eyes and notice the sounds in the surrounding space, transition to any smells, and lastly feel into the body. Feel the points of your body resting on the floor, chair, bed etc. Notice the air moving against your skin, the clothing resting on your skin. Don't judge anything that you're experiencing, just observe it. Feel your breath moving through your body. The coolness of the breath flowing in, the warmth of the breath flowing out, the rising and falling of the chest and belly. The wave of the breath moving through your entire body.

Continue to stay with your moment by moment experience and come back to this moment each time you become lost in a thought. Listening to a guided mindfulness practice can help you get started!

4. Gratitude

Gratitude is simply the act of truly appreciating all of the things in your life, good and bad. When you're grateful, you focus on the positive aspects of your experiences, even when you're in pain and have a bad experience.

Research shows that practicing gratitude can have a number of incredible benefits, including reducing stress levels, improving mood, and increasing an overall sense of well-being. It has also been shown to be helpful for coping with pain.

In order to practice gratitude, simply try taking a few minutes each day to think about the things you're grateful for that day. It can be anything, big or small. In fact, focusing on the small things that you are grateful for can help you find gratitude even when it is very difficult to see the positive within your painful life experience. 

You can start by being grateful for a bed to sleep in, a roof to sleep under, food in your belly, clean water to drink and bathe in. There are so many small things that we take for granted daily, especially in our modernized world.  

When you focus on the good aspects of even the challenging parts of your life, it helps to distract your mind from your pain. The pain will not go away, but you can refocus your attention and temporarily find relief from the pain. Reframing your perspective to that of gratitude can immensely help you to feel more positive and hopeful about your life circumstances.

5. Self-compassion

Self-compassion refers to being kind and compassionate to yourself, just as you would be to a very close friend or loved one. In fact, even more compassionate than you would a friend or loved one, because you my friend need it! When you feel most depressed, and the most overwhelmed by your pain please be kind and compassionate towards yourself. Rub your arm with the other arm (or imagine if needed) and kindly tell yourself, “It is okay, I am here with you, and anyone would be sad in these circumstances.” Be the kind empathetic friend you need for yourself.

All of these coping techniques can help to lessen pain levels and allow you to refocus your attention on something other than your constant pain. I encourage you to try just one of these techniques the next time that you feel overwhelmed by your own pain!