Pain management, typically utilized for those suffering from chronic pain issues, is popular for those choosing not to use narcotics for pain relief. According to a recent study mindfulness, a practice I speak of often has now been scientifically proven to help those suffering from chronic pain. As I’ve previously shared, I too suffer from chronic pain and so know how well mindfulness works for me, and how well it works for my clients.
Pain management, when coupled with mindfulness, does not take away the pain, but the focus is on learning how best, healthily, to cope with the pain. Mindfulness does not ignore the miseries of life, it allows us to embrace the pain, recognize the pain, and then deal with the pain. A goal of mindfulness is to more fully understand all aspects of life, the good, bad, or otherwise.
The definition of mindfulness that I use is the standard definition touted by the scholar Jon Kabat-Zinn: “a means of paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” In this definition, there is no mention of focusing only on the positives in life, but to pay attention to the present moment. How I experience the present moment is what’s to be examined and lived. The present moment is the only moment in time wherein we can choose how to react, to respond, to the world around us.
A recent article from Forbes entitled “In pain? Mindfulness Can Help” written by Clary Estes talks about a research study from Yale, Columbia, and Dartmouth outlining the benefits of mindfulness in reducing pain. This has the potential to help the pain management community. The study was published in the journal “Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience” from Oxford Academic titled “Let it be: Mindful-acceptance down-regulates pain and negative emotion”. As Estes writes in the Forbes article: “What is interesting about the study is that the benefits of mindfulness extend to both physical and emotional pain and even a superficial introduction to mindfulness practices has proven to help the participant with pain management.”
The participants in the study practiced 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation and self-reported less pain and negative emotions as a result. The researchers are quick to note that “neurological changes did not occur in the prefrontal cortex, which regulates conscious or rational decision-making, and so were not the result of conscious willpower.”
In other words, according to the study, mindfulness practices make changes in the brain itself, not merely a change based on what we want or believe to happen. Doing meditation for 20 minutes a day actually changes our brain, causing us to improve our thoughts and behaviors.
This study reminds me of an earlier study done by Harvard and published in 2016. In that research, it was discovered that mindful meditation, done daily, creates new grey matter in the brain after only 30 days. For details on that study, click here.
So, what does all of this research mean for each of us? It means that for pain management, learning to use mindfulness and meditation will eventually change your life.
Once we accept our reality of pain and desire a different future existence, then we need to take action. We can’t sit still waiting for change to happen to us. Change happens when we take action to effect change. Do something, such as meditation or speaking with someone trained in mindfulness, which will change your current reality. While you are taking action, don’t selfishly focus on yourself, but help others in their pursuit of a different future. Together we can effect real change. Assisting others provides us with positive self-esteem, and that positive feeling feeds our continued desire to make changes in life. As humans, we are communal creatures, so in helping others better themselves, you also help yourself.
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