Did you know that simply practicing mindfulness can help the chronic pain that many Social Security Disability claimants feel? I found myself talking with a wounded vet the other day about these concepts. In a world where doctors are quick to prescribe addictive painkillers, mindfulness is a much-needed alternative.
A new way to understand pain
We all learn as children that pain in a body part means something is wrong. Our nervous system carries signals to our brain, which says "It hurts!". We wouldn't want to turn this system off - pain is a useful way of knowing if our bodies are in danger or not.
But consider for a moment about the degree of pain you feel from a given injury. Why does it seem like some people are able to keep going after a major injury, whereas others are incapacitated by a less severe ache? The answer, according to scientists, has more to do with one's mental state than a physical difference in wiring.
Those of us who are parents know that young children's responses to falling on the playground or skinning a knee have much to do with how they are taught to see it. Children who are encouraged to get up and keep going without much fanfare fail to see a bloody knee as anything more than a minor annoyance. It is just another part of life. However, children whose parents rush to their aid in a panic are more likely to become fearful and cry.
Your mental state, not your physical body, determines how much suffering you experience.
We can easily translate the above example to the adult world of chronic pain and disabling conditions. Consider the following:
- Researchers have found that people who complain of chronic pain have more tissue in their brain dedicated to receiving pain signals. (Source: Psychology Today) This suggests that the brain adapts and builds on itself to become more sensitive to signals, but it is difficult to undo the process.
- Scientists have discovered that the same network is used to process both physical and emotional pain. Some people even feel physical aches or shooting pains down the limbs when they experience emotional distress.
- Emotional stress has been shown to cause sensations of pain.
It is clear that our physical body can suffer more when we are not in a good place mentally. So, what can we do?
Try a one-minute mindfulness exercise.
According to Psychology Today, mindfulness meditation has been shown in clinical trials to reduce chronic pain by 57 percent. (The most practiced at meditation can reduce it by over 90 percent.) This infographic from Mindful.org can help you get started.
Curious to learn more? Here is a full guide on how to start practicing mindfulness in your daily life.
Remember - just because you are physically unable to work does not mean you are obligated to feel debilitating pain every day. Practicing mindfulness doesn't cost anything, can be done anywhere, and can make a significant difference in your quality of life.
As you prepare to welcome in the new year, why not make a resolution to try mindfulness?
Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney.
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