Can Mindfulness Meditation Reduce Pain? Living In The Moment Can Be Healing, Study Says
Living in the moment seems like one of those things humans should have mastered by now, but let’s face it: Life is lived in the fast lane, and it's all about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with setting and working toward personal goals, but eventually, keeping your head down 24/7 and never bringing yourself up for air is probably going to burn you out, and you’re going to feel it both mentally and physically. Plus, new research says living in the moment by practicing mindfulness meditation can reduce pain, in every sense of the word — meaning, every now and then, you might want to stop and smell the roses and actually get in touch with your surroundings. By emotionally separating yourself from a situation, you might start to see the world at face value, learn that pain is temporary, and, like any fleeting moment, this, too, shall pass.
Sept. 12, 2018 is International Mindfulness Day, a holiday founded by the nonprofit organization Wisdom Publications to spread awareness about the many health benefits of practicing mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is something I think we can all benefit from in the long run, and clearly, science agrees. Still, I know myself, and in some instances, what holds me back from being mindful is that I sometimes imagine mindfulness as more of a project, a sort of to-do to check off my list, and less of what it really is: a state of mind.
In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, Jamison Monroe, the founder and CEO of Newport Academy, sums up mindfulness as “the process of bringing one’s attention to the present moment.” It’s a kind of mental framework that refocuses your train of thought to hone in on your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in relation to your surroundings, so that you're better able to “stay in tune with your current experience,” and embrace the “freedom from past regrets and fears of the future,” he explains. And, according to new research published in the medical journal PAIN, this kind of conscious emotional disassociation, in which you’re able to take your feelings out of the equation and experience any moment in time for exactly what it is, is what’s ultimately going to make you less susceptible to pain.
So here's how the research was done: During a 2015 study, researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine set out to compare and contrast the benefits of mindfulness meditation to placebos in helping patients cope with physical pain. To explore the concept that mindful meditation can reduce pain even further, Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s medical school, rounded up 76 healthy volunteers and, using a clinical measurement of mindfulness, figured out how naturally mindful each participant was, ScienceDaily reports. After gathering this information, Zeidan exposed the volunteers to painful heat stimulation, and based on a subsequent brain scan, he was able to determine whether or not mindfulness affects pain tolerance. The results showed that, when you're a more mindful person, you might just have a better response to feelings of pain.
So, even though mindfulness starts in the brain, it truly does benefit the entire body. According to Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, mindfulness creates a kind of domino effect in that, by calming the mind, you’re able to calm the body. Not only will you be able to “effectively confront situations that can typically set you off,” Glatter tells Elite Daily, but mindfulness can also physiologically clear the pathways of pain perception to the brain, causing “lower heart rate, blood pressure, and a reduction in muscle tone” during times when your body would otherwise fall back into its fight-or-flight mode.
So how can you practice mindfulness more regularly and reap some of these amazing benefits? Well, to put it into perspective, doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC, tells Elite Daily that the key to mindfulness is "being psychologically present to the opportunities available in any situation." That way, you're able to decipher how to manage your response to stressful situations in the future. One way to do this, Forshee says, is to take challenging scenarios as they come, and try your best to figure out a solution based on the here and now, instead of what worked in the past, and what sort of effect this particular scenario could have on your future.
Poppy Jamie, a mindfulness expert and founder of the wellness app Happy Not Perfect, adds that journaling your thoughts, especially in times of stress, can also help you achieve a greater sense of mindfulness. When you feel particularly stressed or anxious, the emotional part of the mind is usually in overdrive, Jamie tells Elite Daily, which, she explains, ultimately leads to your brain "chattering all sorts of nonsense" that makes you feel even less at-ease. "Journaling your thoughts starts activating your pre-frontal cortex (the CEO-like part of the brain… rational thinking)," Jamie says, "and in doing so, this helps to calm the amygdala (emotional center)." In other words, when in doubt, let it out on paper and move on.
But, if you're not much of a writer, there are countless other little ways you can practice mindfulness throughout your day. Whenever the going gets rough, or you'd just like to take a few minutes to check in with your mental state and physical body, Khajak Keledjian, CEO of INSCAPE, tells Elite Daily that small actions, such as taking a few minutes to breathe on your lunch break, or meditating on your commute home, "will result in noticeable improvements."
The goal is to start implementing mindfulness into your daily routine, so whether you dive right in or start small, over time, you'll start to notice a difference in how you move through your days, and how both your body and your mind are able to handle whatever comes your way.