As we discussed earlier, there is a relationship between chronic pain and emotional or mental aspects of your life. One of the best ways to manage the physical pain in your life is to manage the amount of stress you experience and to learn ways to handle that stress. Stress may come from many different external factors in one’s life: some worry about finances, their relationships, their kids, their spouse, or traumatic or stressful events from the past. When we are stressed out, our heart rate goes up, our blood pressure rises, our bodies become tense, and our breathing becomes fast or erratic. Therefore, it is understandable how chronic stress can be directly linked to chronic pain. Some research has shown that even the process of thinking about stressful things or a stressful event can increase tension in the back muscles. However, there are multiple ways to reduce or manage the stress that we deal with and promote a healthy lifestyle that is free from everyday pain. Some ways include:
- Breathing Exercises: One popular breathing exercise is the “Foursquare” breathing exercise. This includes inhaling while counting to 4, holding the air in for 4 seconds, releasing the air for 4 seconds, and holding the exhalation for 4 seconds. Repeat this process as much as necessary. Oxygen to the brain helps us think more clearly, which is why we often yawn when we are tired.
- Guided Imagery: includes imagining a beautiful, peaceful place in your mind as you practice breathing deeply in and out. This “special place” can be an easy way to zone out for a few seconds (we don’t recommend doing it during a work meeting) and can give you a boost of relaxation and shed a little bit of stress in just a mere minute or two.
- Meditation: (also commonly involved with mindfulness training) involves directing or focusing your attention (or in some cases a “lack” of attention) on a specific thing or thought. A common style of meditation may include sitting in a comfortable chair, or on the ground, with your eyes closed. The idea is to practice focusing on every possible sound in the room or outside and to be mindful of every sound that you hear. In the same chair with your eyes closed, you might practice focusing on a specific part of your body and contemplating about how it feels at that moment. Once you focus on one body part, move on to a different part of your body and do the same thing. Since mindfulness meditation requires time to focus, it’s best to practice these methods alone or away from others who may distract you. It may not seem like much, but mindfulness training can put things into perspective in a way that, for a few seconds, makes you suddenly forget about everything else in the world. The idea is to divert your attention away from your stress and pain, and place your focus on something completely captivating and distracting for a few minutes at a time. Many people believe that meditation benefits the body in multiple ways including: reduced pain, stress-free, more connected and focused, healthy, happy, and content with life.