I was meditating the other day, using an app which has this exercise requiring me to focus on my breathing for 5 minutes. As like many other people, it was quite hard for me to pay all my attention only on what was going on on my body. I was, of course, surrounded by many thoughts.
As humans, we are constantly exposed to various stimuli from our environment. Our mind is always busy with the past or the future, rather than the present moment. Although it’s good to focus on past to learn from it or to focus on future to make plans, it’s also good to be on the present moment and to focus on our immediate experiences to live them to the fullest. Good news is that it is possible to be more present with the help of a practice called “mindfulness”. I’m sure most of you have already heard of mindfulness; or perhaps even practiced it. Mindfulness is characterised by paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance. It is basically embracing the stimuli without judgment. Especially in recent years, the scientific study of mindfulness has taken considerable attention by researchers who identified certain clinical applications of mindfulness mediation such as stress reduction, eliminating substance abuse and tobacco cessation.
One of the areas mindfulness practice seems to be effectively used is the management of chronic pain. Recently, mindfulness interventions have been used as an alternative treatment for chronic pain. Chronic pain refers to the pain which lasts longer than 3 months and it usually comes with its negative effects on patients’ psychological, social and economic life, and sometimes in conjunction with pain medication dependence. Mindfulness-based interventions aim to improve the well-being of chronic pain patients by encouraging non-judgmental experience of the present moment; in this case, mostly the pain experience. Mindfulness studies showed promising outcomes for chronic pain patients focusing on specific types of pain such as chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, and musculoskeletal pain. A recent study conducted by Carvalho and her colleagues found that higher levels of mindful awareness were associated with lower levels of pain intensity and depressive symptoms.
“We judge the pain, and that only makes it worse,” says clinical psychologist Elisha Goldstein, referring to the fact that people may deal with pain by embracing it rather than constantly ruminating about how unpleasant the situation is. Although the studies investigating mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of chronic pain are only evolving and there are certainly many methodological and theoretical limitations, mindfulness may be a fruitful research area for investigating possible improvements for chronic pain patients.
For further reading
Carvalho, S. A., Gillanders, D., Palmeira, L., Pinto-Gouveia, J., & Castilho, P. (2018). Mindfulness, self-compassion, and depressive symptoms in chronic pain: The role of pain acceptance. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 74(12), 2094-2106. doi:10.1002/jclp.22689
Jackson, W., Zale, E. L., Berman, S. J., Malacarne, A., Lapidow, A., Schatman, M. E., …Vranceanu, A. (2019). Physical functioning and mindfulness skills training in chronic pain: A systematic review. Journal of Pain Research, 12, 179-189. doi:10.2147/jpr.s172733
Maglione, M., Hempel, S., Maher, A. R., Apaydin, E., Ewing, B., Hilton, L., . .. Sorbero, M.(2016). Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review. doi:10.7249/rr1317