Pain can be an awful thing, that can take over our lives sometimes. When we experience pain, the go-to remedy is usually drugs or painkillers. However when experiencing pain often, or suffering from chronic pain, drugs can have some serious long term side effects. If you suffer from chronic long term conditions such as arthritis, backache, or other pain you might be looking for alternative ways to alleviate some of the aches that go along with your condition.
A lot of pain is rooted in brain processes, which can be affected by your mind and emotions. The science behind the mind-body link is still being researched, but we know now that your brain does play a role in how you experience pain.
You can take advantage of the mind-body connection to help alleviate your pain.
As pain involves both body and mind, you can use mind-body techniques to change the way you experience and perceive pain - and therefore alleviate it. If you suffer from chronic pain, you may have rewired your brain to perceive the pain - even when it isn’t there.
There are a range of mind-body techniques that can help to alleviate pain, as well as stress and anxiety. You may want to try a few before you find a technique that's right for you and your pain - everyone is different! You can also combine techniques to come up with your own personal mind-body pain relief.
1. Deep Breaths
Deep breathing is a central theme in relieving stress and anxiety, so it’s no surprise this technique can help pain too. This is a good place to start in trying out mind-body pain relief. Simply inhale deeply, hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale fully. You can use music or apps to help you maintain a regular breathing rhythm.
Deep breathing works by activating your parasympathetic nervous systems - of which the relaxation response is included. Simple deep breathing works, or you can use a breathing practice designed to relax you. One technique is to place the tip of your tongue against your front teeth, and breathe in through your nose for four seconds. You then hold your breath for three seconds, and breathe out fully for one. This type of breathing technique works to calm your nervous system.
2. Kickstarting the relaxation response
Deep breathing helps to stimulate your relaxation response, but there are other ways to illicite this response in your body to help alleviate pain. The relaxation response counteracts any stress in your body, turning down your heart rate. Muscle relaxation can help you to identify the difference between tension and relaxation, which will help you counteract your body’s natural flight-or-fight response that occurs with most pain and stress. You can do this by tensing and relaxing all your muscle groups one at a time.
Meditation helps as a pain relief as it reduces the activity in your brain’s somatosensory complex. This is the part of the brain which creates the feeling of pain, and identifies how strong and where your pain is. You can use many guided meditation apps, or simply listen to some calming music and imagine yourself in a restful environment. By observing your thoughts and accepting them through meditation, you can learn to seperate yourself from your stress and pain. Meditation has been proven to lessen pain from migraines, back ache, and even cancer pain. You can reap the benefits after just four days of practicing meditation.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully immersed in any one activity - taking stock of your senses and emotional responses. You can practice mindfulness in all aspects of your life - it’s basically the practice of being present. There have been studies that show mindfulness has an effect on how we experience pain. It can reduce the levels of inflammation due to stress, which is present in people suffering from conditions such as arthritis, IBS or inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma; as well as other chronic inflammatory conditions.
This works as mindfulness helps to relieve stress and anxiety - and stress and anxiety can heighten your inflammatory responses. Practicing mindfulness can reduce your inflammatory response levels over time.
Yoga connects your mind and body through use of breath control, meditation and body movement. It’s been proven as an exercise to alleviate pain and stress.It’s especially effective in alleviating back pain. This is due to its calming effects, and it’s especially used as a tool in fighting mental illness, such as mild depression, sleep issues, and anxiety.
6. Positive thinking
Instead of concentrating on your pain, retrain your mindset to focus on the positive. You can do this by writing down everything you are thankful for each day. This helps you remind yourself that your pain isn’t all-encompassing. Laughter also helps to alleviate pain as it releases the endorphins that activate the pain-killing, euphoria inducing brain receptors.
Repeating a mantra or an incantation - this can be any soothing word or phrase - in a rhythmic way can induce relaxation in a way similar to meditation and mindfulness. This helps to keep your mind worrying and focusing on your pain, and engages the relaxation response. Studies have shown that mantras can help decrease frequency and intensity of migraines.
If you want to explore the link between mind and body, this week we have a 10-part series focusing on yoga for chronic pain. Try the series alongside some of these mind-body techniques to help alleviate your pain.
By Amy Cavill
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