Opioids are frequently used to treat chronic pain when other medications have failed to relieve symptoms, but their use is contributing to the opioid crisis. Nonpharmacological alternatives like mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) supplement other medical procedures in our multidisciplinary pain management program. They help patients look at pain differently than they usually would. Instead of looking at it as something to fear and remedy, MBIs help the patient view pain as something to explore rather than fear. Hence, mindfulness is a mental exercise —not a pill or an invasive medical procedure. Besides, when mindfulness is learned, it can be used at no cost to the patient, with no associated side effects.
Furthermore, there is moderate scientific evidence that MBIs such as meditation, yoga, and stress reduction can improve a patient’s quality of life by lowering the perception of pain, increasing mobility, and improving functioning. Hence, health care providers can improve treatment outcomes for patients and potentially decrease the use of prescription medications by integrating MBIs and other pharmacological and nonpharmacological interventions.
Mindfulness helps the patient focus on the present moment with full attention — it is about the here-and-now. It helps the patient look at pain without analyzing or judging it by its severity and the discomfort it causes. It also helps patients overcome feelings of regret and future worries about the implications of living with chronic pain.
Mindful exercises for beginners include:
- Pay attention. Slow down and experience your environment with all of your senses. This can be hard at first but gets better with practice. For example, stop at a forested area and notice the tree species in the Fall. See which ones are shedding leaves. Notice the colors of leaves that are yet to fall.
- Live in the moment. Try to bring undivided attention to everything you do, and try to find joy in simple pleasures.
- Accept yourself. Realize that you are important and accept yourself as you are. Be your own good friend.
- Focus on your breathing. Whenever you have negative thoughts or a panicking over any change, sit down, take a deep breath, close your eyes and focus on your breathing for close to a minute. This method is routinely used to calm people with anxiety.
At PCC, we educate patients on both basic and structured mindfulness techniques either individually or in groups.