How mindfulness can help with anxiety and pain relief
Mindfulness is an awareness of the present with the ability to remain conscious in all areas of our lives. It is a moment by moment ‘paying attention’ to what is happening in the now without judgement or desire to alter the course of events. It instils a peaceful present in the practitioner that proves a useful ally in the connection between mind and body. With its roots in Buddhism it has become a high profile wellness practise, extending its reach to formal study, corporate programs. schools and media articles on a daily basis.
Where Mindfulness has proven to be most useful is in the areas of stress reduction and pain relief. One of the very first mainstream teachers of mindfulness as a stress and pain reduction solution was Dr Jon Kabat –Zinn, a Professor of Medicine who founded MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction).
Mindfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck and back in touch with our own wisdom and vitality. It is a way to take charge of the direction and quality of our lives. - Jon Kabat-Zinn PHD
Research results from Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness based stress reduction program found that patients were able to reduce their pain medication and become more active. They saw a 55% improvement in mood, 30% improvement in handling daily living such as driving, having sex, cooking and sleeping. Practising mindful meditation created changes in brain regions associated with learning, memory, emotion regulation and empathy.
Mindfulness has proven itself an essential tool in the reduction of anxiety and its associated physical symptoms. A person experiencing anxiety will strongly identify with fear and exaggerate threat. Caught inside a pattern of negative thinking and hyper arousal, the fight or flight response can kick in with no real present danger. The resulting physical symptoms are raised heartbeat, high blood pressure, digestive issues, insomnia, damage to the thyroid and adrenals and full blown panic attacks.
In mindfulness based therapy the person remains present with these symptoms. By following the flow of thought and feeling without trying to flee the experience itself, the person acknowledges and recognises their over identification with negative thoughts. Mindfulness shines a light on the situation and allows the person to see that they are only reacting to a perceived threat. By identifying the process they can react in a positive way, controlling the fight or flight response. Observing the patterns and sensations of anxiety contextualises the feelings and brings about a control and calm that helps to harmonise mind and body.
Living with chronic pain can be debilitating and intolerable. Traditionally the answer is to attempt anaesthetising the pain with pharmaceuticals, which can be short lived and physically damaging over the long term. It may seem counterintuitive to lessen the impact of pain by experiencing its sensations but this is how Mindfulness has proven to be a core treatment in this area. We have come to realise that pain is experienced in two parts. The first is the cause of physical pain itself, whilst the second is our processing and reaction to the pain, which is often long lasting and far more intense.In effect our bodies experience pain as physical sensation and our minds then turn up the volume, amplifying that sensation.
In clinical trials Mindfulness has proven to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent with accomplished practitioners reporting a 90 percent reduction. Using imaging, the studies have shown that mindfulness soothes brain patterns underlying pain, which alters the structure of the brain itself over time. The patient can tolerate pain to a greater degree with some reporting that they barely notice the pain with repeated practise. Hospitals are increasingly prescribing mindfulness through their pain clinics for heart disease, arthritis, cancer sufferers, IBS, fibromyalgia, migraine and back pain sufferers.