How Mindfulness Reduces PainPain is regulated by our nervous system. Our brain alerts us of the pain we feel and it strives to maintain balance in the body. Stress disrupts the brain’s ability to deal with pain signals. Dr. Steven Stanos, medical director of the Center for Pain Management at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, stated, “The brain is always trying to inhibit pain signals. But if you're stressed, simply put, the brain's ability to filter these pain signals is affected in a bad way and pain can be increased.” Research shows that even the process of thinking about something stressful immediately causes increased tension in the back muscles. This tension aggravates any underlying conditions of pain that you may have.

Mindfulness significantly reduces stress levels, anxiety, and feelings of depression. Researchers conducted a study in which participants were placed in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group. When participants finished this training, scans revealed that in troubling situations they had less neural activity and responses. This means that there wasn’t a large release of stress hormones, leading researchers to the conclusion that mindfulness teaches strategies that help the brain regulate and react to an emotional situation with less stress, thus helping decrease pain levels.

But when some people think of mindfulness exercises, they envision someone sitting around chanting mantras or listening to a recording that tells them to envision certain things. This idea is unappealing to many individuals and they decide that practicing mindfulness is not for them.

This is understandable because it can be difficult to make yourself sit around and listen to a voice telling you to imagine that you are floating on water. However, practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be like this.

The word mindfulness means to practice focusing on the present. It is meant for you to give the present moment your active, devoted attention to observe your thoughts and feelings. The goal is to try not to declare whether these thoughts or feelings are good or bad. You just focus on what is around you and what you are doing.

If this is what mindfulness means then you don’t have to worry about forcing yourself to sit down and try to imagine or repeat mantras. You can begin to just take little moments throughout your day to breathe and focus on what you are doing. In this moment, don’t let your mind wander to thoughts of work, or what you should be doing next, or what you wish you weren’t doing at the moment. Just take the time to live and ponder about how you feel and show yourself compassion and understanding.

Here are some tips to begin naturally including mindfulness practice into your day:

  • Fully engage your senses. Pay attention to sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound and savor every sensation.
  • Try doing things that you love and take this time to practice taking in the moment. If you are doing something that you already enjoy then it should be easy to focus.
  • During your practice, resist judging a situation that you think about with resentment, regret, or anger.
  • During the day, let your mind fully appreciate what you are doing. Allow yourself to take in the moment and be fully present with the activity you are doing. If you’re cooking, just let yourself cook. When you are eating, just eat and enjoy the flavors of your food; don’t let your mind wander to your feelings. While walking to your car, listen for nature sounds, feel the weather, and take in the colors and view around you.
  • Try to not let your emotions take over your thoughts.
  • If your mind wanders, just recognize it and then let your thoughts return to being fully absorbed in what you are doing.
Related: How Positive Thinking Reduces Pain
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