Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular. This is good because of the benefits from regular practice that include improved concentration, focus, clarity of thought, reduction in negative thought streams and stress related problems. Pain falls into the last category as stress and pain often come hand in hand. In fact, pain is a stressor when it is perceived to be out of the control of the individual.
Stress refers to the body trying to restore balance physiologically. The bottom line is the perception of a situation. When our brains a working out what is going on inside of us and to us, if there is a perceived threat it will respond. We are then conscious of pain, discomfort, ‘butterflies’ and a host of other emotions with physical manifestations. Physical stress occurs when we exercise, sit too long and drink too much coffee to name but a few. Psychological stress happens in response to harassment, thinking negatively and ruminating on an argument for example.
The problem lies in the fact that the brain responds to perceived threats whether they really exist or not. If you play the tape of an argument with the boss, you experience the genuine feeling of rage and anger as very real chemicals are being released and giving you the same feelings. Therefroe an on going perception of threat leads to chronic stress as the brain and body try to restore balance. The persistent release of chemicals relating to stress can affect tissue health and maintain the cycle of sensitivity. We already know that thinking negatively has a measurable effect upon the immune system (catastrophising leads to an increase in IL-6 that impacts upon IL-1 and TNF that both have a role in inflammation), therefore for a number of reasons it is important to develop some skills in managing stress.
Mindfulness offers such an approach and if used well can be extremely beneficial in situations of stress and pain. At Specialist Pain Physio Clinics we use this technique and cover some basic skills to enable increased control, reduction in stress and anxiety and a stepping stone to deeper practice that has wide ranging healthy benefits.
NB/ The has been some confusion recently with comparisons of mindfulness to breathing. Mindfulness is mindfulness, breathing is breathing, they are not the same.
For more information read Matthieu Ricard’s Art of Meditation.