For most people, pain can be part of daily life. Pain expresses itself and manifests physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Those who live with pain, look for ways to manage it throughout the day — consciously or subconsciously. For people with Parkinson’s, pain is a common non-motor symptom.
Emotional pain can be brought on by stressful situations, from the holidays to a Parkinson’s diagnosis. While physical pain can be brought on by Parkinson’s symptoms or the physical demands of caregiving.
There are many ways to manage physical pain, including:
- Activities: stretching, yoga or Tai Chi
- Over-the-counter medication that eases the response of neurons to relieve pain
- Tools: cane, walker, knee brace, heating pad, ice, compression stockings, supportive shoes
Managing Pain Through Mindfulness
There are different types of pain, and other ways to manage it. The mind plays a significant role in pain management. When you start to think about how the mind responds to pain, you can start to redirect your thoughts and how to address that sensation, adopting a new technique for managing pain.
Below are six steps to managing pain through mindfulness:
1. Acknowledge your pain.
Which type of pain are you experiencing? Pain can take shape in multiple ways:
- Physical pain: felt in the body — tingling, burning, throbbing, aching
- Emotional pain: feelings of grief, loneliness, panic or worthlessness
- Mental pain: feelings of anxiety or depression
- Spiritual pain: feeling disconnected from yourself and others
2. Work on redirecting your response to pain.
A mantra is a sound, or vibration to help reduce stress, anxiety or pain. Mantras can help adapt the brain to how it responds to pain.
Notice where you are experiencing pain. Say, “Hello. I feel you. I hear you. And I accept you.” Repeat this mantra as many times as you need to acknowledge your pain and to begin cultivating a relationship with the sensation or thoughts you are feeling.
3. Recognize your strength.
Your strength comes in many forms — physical, mental, spiritual and emotional — the same ways pain manifests. When living with chronic pain, some people may feel they are not as strong as they should be. Chronic pain can also cause fatigue. Our body and minds also work hard to avoid pain, to push it away. This can lead to exhaustion and forgetting about the strength you do have.
Any amount of strength is reason to celebrate. Find your reason to celebrate — what strength and motivation did you find today? Did your strength look like taking a walk, folding the laundry, cooking, calling a friend to catch up or spending time resting? How did your strength show up today? And tell yourself, “I am strong. I am resilient. I trust my body.”
4. Reduce your stress.
Triggers are events or everyday things that can set you off. They increase blood pressure, anxiety and pain. For example, being stuck in traffic or unable to button a shirt. How you respond to stressors can cause the same stress response in your body. Stress can also make Parkinson’s symptoms worse.
Does stressing about the traffic help the situation? Does feeling frustrated make you feel better? Does looking for your phone with anger improve your search skills? Probably not. In fact, stress slows us down.
Try to categorize your stressors. Ask yourself, “is this situation a mountain or a mole hill?” Next, breathe. Once you can bring yourself to see the significance of a stressor, you can start to feel relief. Pain is also associated with feelings of uncertainty and insecurity, which can manifest itself to become anxiety.
5. Make yourself feel safe when experiencing pain.
Understand that it is common to worry when experiencing pain, but recognize that fear or uncertainty, and work towards making your body and mind feel safe. How can you reduce your anxiety?
- Mindful meditation can help — using our breath to calm the nervous system, along with using words and phrases, like mantras.
- Calming smells, like essential oils of lavender or jasmine.
- Be gentle with yourself. Refrain from judgement and return to objective awareness.
- Show yourself some extra love. Be kind to yourself. When your body is hurting, do something kind for it— take a bath, drink herbal tea, breathe into your body and say: “I am safe, I am loved.”
During flare ups, or bad days, it’s even more difficult to remind yourself how far you have come.
6. Stop and think about the positive things.
Our brains find it much easier to hold onto negative memories and emotions than the positive ones. Help your mind, help your brain, remember the positive memories and emotions. Close your eyes and silently say: “Look how far I’ve come” and then add something positive you have accomplished.
It’s a complicated conversation when you start to talk to your pain. Create a deeper connection with your body and how your mind reacts to your body. What kind of conversation do you have with yourself? Can you redirect the language you use to a more supportive, positive and optimistic tone?
Try utilizing a mantra in your daily like. Use a mantra below to help guide your supportive relationship with yourself, your body and your pain — or think of a new one that inspires you.
- I feel you. I hear you. And I accept you.
- I am strong. I am resilient. I trust my body.
- Is this a mountain or a molehill?
- I am safe, I am loved.
- Look how far I’ve come.
For more guided mindfulness and relaxation events and videos, visit Parkinson.org/PDHealth.
For more insights on this topic, listen to our podcast episode “Managing Stress with a Mindful Approach”.