Those of us who have suffered from chronic pain, regardless of it being emotional or physical, know that it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of medication, google searches and drugstore hauls.
Be honest, how many of you haven’t spent a scandalous amount of money on pain creams, braces, massages (which are awesome), doctors, therapists, 10 different heat pads and ice packs… The list is endless. But what if I told you that there’s something you can do that will probably help a lot and won’t cost you any money? Yes: I’m talking about meditation!
The Pain – Stress Cycle
As a Mindfulness Health Coach with 28 years of experience, I feel like it is very important for me to talk to you about the relationship between stress and chronic pain.
When you think about it, stress and pain are very similar from a mechanical standpoint. They both have physical components, as well as emotional ones. Our chronic pain is often coming from an injury or a medical condition, and we have the physical sensation of pain, which comes from nerve endings firing signals towards the brain, but we also have an intense emotional relationship with it.
In our minds, we’re having a conversation about the pain that we’re feeling, and the longer we feel it, the more these conversations occur. We begin thinking about how much we dislike the pain, about how we don’t want it to be there.
Now, when you think about stress, there’s a similarity in the way we relate to it; we have different situations or challenges in our personal environments, like deadlines, arguments, or somebody cutting you off in traffic.
Even when these situations stop, when we’re no longer arguing, or when we’ve arrived home safely, we somehow keep experiencing them; we keep thinking about them and going over them in our heads, prolonging the stress. And when that stress occurs, our body starts having a physical response.
The Science Behind it
We now know that you can’t have an emotional response without a physical one, and vice versa. So emotional stress produces what is called the stress response: fight, flight, or freeze;
and a side effect of this is that the body begins producing a lot of hormones and chemicals.
In fact, Candace Pert, who passed away a few years ago, former director of the NIH’s Brain Research Center, once said that you can’t have any emotion without changing every molecule in your body. This is why reducing or managing stress is critical when it comes to managing pain.
The majority of the clients that I’ve worked with during the past 28 years, regardless of their particular needs, wanted me to help them reduce their stress levels.
Chronic stress is one of the biggest contributors to disease and pain, and so they wanted help; they were dealing with chronic pain or autoimmune conditions, and they told me that, when they had bouts of elevated stress, their pain also shot up. And I think we can all relate to that. Who hasn’t gotten a horrible headache, or a stiff neck after a stressful situation.
And so, we can see that there’s a symbiotic relationship between stress and pain, and if we can reduce our stress levels, we can effectively start working with that pain in a holistic way, reducing it significantly.
And one of the most effective tools, in my personal and professional experience, is meditation or mindfulness.
So, what is meditation? A lot of people who are new to the concept have this question. They aren’t sure what exactly they’re supposed to be doing. Is sitting quietly meditation? Well, not if you’re going over the grocery list in your head…
Meditation is a state of complete awareness, where you’re not just quiet on the outside, but also on the inside. It’s a moment when you silence the mind and just feel, observe your body without getting caught up in any judgements or thoughts; you allow everything to pass by, rather than holding on or mulling over a particular thought. And, good news: meditation actually gives your endocannabinoid system a boost!
So, no… Sitting quietly and going over everything you need to do that day is not meditation, it’s just something that will stress you out even more.
Meditation for Pain Relief
Meditation is something that I’m trained in. In fact, it’s so important to me that I went out and I did a two year internship in order to learn how to teach people to reduce their stress through meditation, and I’m trained in a version that’s clinical and secular, which I have found to be a very powerful tool.
One of the main reasons why I wanted to be trained in it, wasn’t just because I wanted to help others, but because I needed it myself. Something that is sometimes difficult to share, is that my wife and I experienced the loss of a child, and that experience dramatically changed my life; it became a form of pain, of chronic, emotional pain. And it did transfer into physical pain; I would have back aches, joint pain and other symptoms just from the anxiety that I had. I was having a PTSD response to the loss.
The only thing that actually ended up helping me was taking a course on meditation; for the very first time, I was able to be with that pain, with that suffering, in a different way. This was the beginning of transforming it into a healing process, and I’m still working on that. I still meditate every day because it makes a big difference, and I want to convey how powerful this tool can be for you.
Often, with chronic pain, what starts happening is that it becomes “my pain”. But the truth is that we don’t want to own that pain. What we can do by practicing mindfulness is strengthen our minds and develop the skill to understand what we’re feeling, observing it more than getting into it. When we achieve that, we can start calling it “the pain”, rather than “my pain”.
And “the pain” is going to be a lot easier to work with, it will make it easier to get
to a place where we can live with it.
The awareness that meditation brings, allows us to notice the experience of nerves sending signals, we can notice that we don’t like it, and there is a boat load of research that shows we can actually embrace very difficult emotions and sensations, including physical pain. This eventually causes those signals to dissipate: nerves actually start sending less pain signals.
The converse is actually true: when we are stressed, nerve endings start sending more pain signals to the brain. And this is a very easy cycle for us to get into: pain causes stress, stress causes more pain, and so on…
Pain Meditation Techniques
Though many have doubts, you can use meditation to relieve physical pain. Quieting the mind lessens out-of-control pain signals and also gives us the mental tools we need to stop mulling over it and burying ourselves in pain.
I’m going to give you some tips, so you can potentialize this powerful tool, which made a huge difference in my life; and I know it can make a difference in yours:
- Find a quiet environment where you won’t be interrupted
- Get comfortable (stand, sit, or lie down)
- Begin by focusing on your breathing, how the air flows in and out
- Notice the pain: where is it? What type of pain is it?
- Recognise it, but practice identifying it as separate from you
- Acknowledge your feelings towards it, but don’t attach to them, let the thought go
- Use other helpful tools, like meditation music, aromatherapy, or CBD oil
CBD and Meditation for Pain Relief
In this journey of pain relief and mindfulness, CBD can be a very powerful ally.
If you google it, you will find countless stories about people who have used it successfully because it has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, which can help us get to a place where we can practice a more successful meditation, where they can start working on the practice of focus and paying attention, noticing their emotions.
So, how does CBD play a role in the stress-pain cycle that we’ve been talking about? What’s cool about CBD is that it has an impact on so many of our body’s systems, and we know that it is an exceptionally good supplement for anxiety and stress reduction.
These are real, effective tools that you can use to change your life for the better, so you can find our best YOU.
Meditation is not a hard thing to do. The hardest part is to remember to do it and fight that initial feeling of dread over sitting quietly for a few minutes and make an effort to be aware. But it’s quite easy once you get started and, I promise you, it’ll make a huge difference in your life. So good luck!