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The Mindful Path through Chronic Pain

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

painIf you’ve experienced it, chronic pain is inherently, chronically stressful. It interferes with our day to day functioning and our relationships. It’s difficult to concentrate, function, and live the lives we want to. Many of the things we were used to doing that were pleasurable or fun is taken away. We have difficulty playing with kids, going to dinner, moving around a party, or even making love. Even worse, it affects our relationships. Those of us who don’t walk around with chronic pain fail to recognize or acknowledge the pain in people who have the condition. What are the consequences of this? People with chronic pain may not receive the social support, empathy or love that they need. This can wear anyone down to the point where the risk for depression gets higher and higher.

If there are two things we can be assured of in this life, it’s stress and pain. With chronic pain we know by the adjective "chronic" that it’s not going away. So in working with it, trying to get rid of it is going to be a continually disappointing effort. If we can’t get rid of it, what can we do?

We need to change our relationship to pain in order to gain relief!

This was the impetus behind Jon Kabat-Zinn’s program in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. He had people practice approaching the pain with attention and checking judgments at the door. This was radically different than the status quo of wishing it away or that it wasn’t a part of your life. Clinical studies show a significant reduction in suffering associated with chronic pain after working the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program for 8 weeks. If you or someone you know struggles with chronic pain, there are many resources available for practice.

We also need to nourish our relationships! 

When depression and chronic pain hit, many social relationships can begin to wither away. It’s vital to try and revitalize these relationships before they are lost permanently. It’s tough to ask for help when you’re depressed and in pain. If you can ask close friends or family to visit the doctor with you to learn about chronic pain they can understand it better. This way the family or friends will understand better and be more able to support you in the treatment of your depression and chronic pain. 

Also, if the pain is too great, give yourself permission to explore with the doctor what pain medications and antidepressant drugs might be suitable to get you through this rough patch.