Chronic pain can be a major stress trigger, so it makes sense that pain and stress reduction go hand in hand. Many of the approaches used to control and reduce stress can also work to reduce chronic pain. Making efforts to control pain and stress constructively can increase quality of life and reduce the negative effects of chronic pain.
Pain and Stress Management Strategies
Some of these approaches include gentle yoga, mindfulness meditation, guided imagery, and distraction techniques. Before you try any of these, it's important to work with a doctor who is experienced in pain management to ensure that any medical conditions are properly treated. A doctor can also prescribe and supervise the use of safe and appropriate pain medications. Check with a doctor before doing any type of exercise, stretching, or increased activity that may aggravate existing physical problems.
A study published in the 2005 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that therapeutic yoga was more effective than both self-help books and conventional exercise in reducing chronic low back pain. The safe and regular practice of yoga under the guidance of an experienced teacher can help reduce chronic pain and stress, and increase body awareness.
It's important to find a yoga teacher who is experienced working with chronic pain patients. The best bet may be a physical therapist who is trained in yoga, and pain management clinics may also offer instructional yoga workshops. Although free yoga routines for beginners are available online, people experiencing chronic pain should take these to their doctor for approval before trying to use them.
Mindfulness meditation is meditation that follows Buddhist methods without the religious principles of Buddhism. Mindfulness emphasizes being "in the moment," and observing thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judgment. "Awareness of breath" is usually a starting point for any mindfulness meditation session, and involves concentrating on one's breath and the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling. One of the most commonly used mindfulness meditations is the body scan, in which the participant is guided to become aware of each body part and region separately. Unlike some forms of meditation, that mandate clearing the mind, mindfulness meditation encourages practitioners to simply observe distracting thought and then let them flow through the mind.
Since mindfulness is nonreligious, people of all faiths can practice it without qualms. It also does not require the body movements of yoga, so even those with physical limitations can practice this type of meditation regularly. Research studies are underway to study the effects of mindfulness meditation on stress, but all types of meditation are helpful for reducing stress associated with chronic pain.
Guided imagery uses a script to help a person visualize imaginary settings or scenarios that induce deep relaxation. Guided imagery can help with pain and stress reduction by helping a person visualize coping well with the pain, and even enjoying activities he or she may not be able to do because of pain. The person can also use a script that helps him/her visualize a place that's relaxing and pain free.
Your Pain and Stress Reduction
Developing a strategy for controlling stress associated with chronic pain takes planning and a willingness to try new ways of coping. Rather than relying on medication alone for pain control, holistic methods of reducing pain and stress empower those who may have previously felt powerless over their pain.
Take the time to become educated about each strategy before starting, and practice consistently for a few weeks before giving up on a coping technique. Also, try using simple distraction from pain, perhaps listening to music or reading a particularly engaging book to take the attention off of the pain. Journaling and rating pain daily can help pain sufferers track their progress as they develop a pain management regimen that works.