By Melissa Reynolds.
Editor’s Note—Everyone’s journey vs. chronic pain is unique, and the National Pain Report likes to find patients who are finding some individual success and are willing to share with our audience. Here’s another example:
Meditation is one of my favorite ways to manage the chronic pain and fatigue that come with the illness I fight, fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is thought to affect from 3-to-6% of the world’s population. It is a chronic condition with no known origin or cure, but many treatment options on offer. The prevalence of chronic pain is thought to be even higher.
Mindfulness meditation is one treatment option that has been well researched for chronic pain. The basic premise is to non-judgmentally observe experiences. To notice pain and not react, to just have knowledge of it without imbuing meaning to it.
This article summarizes some of the benefits of mindfulness meditation for those fighting chronic pain: “Studies show that when people meditate, brain activity in regions related to pain perception can be altered, and this can correspond to higher pain tolerance.”
If you are curious, there is a wealth of information about meditation and mindfulness for chronic pain and fibromyalgia. It is also good for general wellbeing.
A free Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction technique course is available here it was created by a certified instructor, based upon a university program founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn (an author and mindfulness instructor worth looking up also).
Let me say that I have spent a lot of time meditating to realize some of the benefits I list. Hundreds and hundreds of hours meditating for rest and only slightly less practicing mindfulness. From full body scans, to short breath awareness meditations and focusing on specific parts of my body asking for release.
The benefits of meditation and mindfulness have permeated every area of my life. Here’s how I use it:
For deep rest.
Neuroimaging during meditation has shown that it can produce alpha waves, a state of deep rest. As someone who has suffered moderate insomnia for over a decade, this was an amazing find. It also helps refill the energy bucket in the afternoon when I’m running low, far more effectively than coffee. When my children have interrupted my sleep, as someone with the inability to nap, meditation is an opportunity to get some rest. This was the most immediate benefit of meditation for me.
For pain management.
The ability to tune in and ascertain the differences in my pain has been immensely useful. Rather than a blob of pain, I can tease the strands (because the body is a whole and there are many parts to pain) and this in turn helps me to seek the correct treatment.
For example, I recently woke with a very tight right shoulder and couldn’t turn my head to the right without a lot of pain. As someone who has spent a long time learning to pay attention, I have learnt the feelings and movements of different parts of the neck and shoulder area. So, when I meditated, which relaxes the whole body, I also focused on the individual parts associated with this pain and gently encouraged them to release.
Pain is a complex phenomenon. There’s the interrelation of the physical (like the joints and muscles) and how we respond to this pain. In the case of this issue, I needed to reduce the tension in the surrounding muscles so that it didn’t put more pressure on the joint (my upper neck joints are tricky to manage).
If I quietly decide to examine what’s happening and use my knowledge to ease it as best as I can, there is a real sense of empowerment. I believe that we have vast amounts of power in managing chronic pain and knowing that does help in coping with it.
To avoid panic and frustration.
When I realize I’m feeling overwhelmed by symptoms or a situation, I will quietly focus on my breath. How my breath feels going in, how it’s a little warmer on the way out. How my breaths lengthen the longer I focus. This small break to focus on something as simple as breathing is surprisingly calming.
Mindfulness has also helped me to be more aware of myself and my reactions. It has helped me to assess symptoms appropriately and at times advocate for myself – especially if I feel something is written off as part of the fibromyalgia when it is not. Being mindful has also helped me to cope with the struggles of a long-term chronic illness.
These are not insignificant benefits so I wholly recommend meditation and mindfulness to anyone who is struggling with chronic pain and/or fibromyalgia.
Melissa Reynolds is a mama who’s been fighting Fibromyalgia for more than a decade. After struggling through the first half of her twenties exhausted and miserably sore without any doctor interested in helping her, she decided to begin fighting for herself. She shares the results of her journey on her blog Melissa vs Fibromyalgia and is the author of Pregnancy and Fibromyalgia and Melissa vs Fibromyalgia: My Journey Fighting Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Insomnia . She lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her husband and children.