Mindfulness and sensory awareness training can help manage chronic pain

  • Mindfulness training involves learning to focus on -- and tap into -- all five senses. Daily practice can help the brain respond to negative stimuli in healthier ways.

    Mindfulness training involves learning to focus on -- and tap into -- all five senses. Daily practice can help the brain respond to negative stimuli in healthier ways. Courtesy of Lesly Juarez

 
 
Updated 8/3/2022 3:37 PM

Nearly one in five Americans suffer from chronic pain. While medication is often prescribed to manage symptoms, there is increasing evidence that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) can alleviate the psychological distress, depression, pain and anxiety that often accompany living with a chronic illness.

MBSR can help patients cope with a variety of medical conditions: gastrointestinal disorders, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, respiratory ailments, hypertension, anxiety, and depression.

 

"Mindfulness is a very powerful tool that can promote mental and physical health and wellness," said Nina Appadurai, Ph.D., a Chicago-based psychologist. "For example, when a patient presents with chronic condition such as migraines, they often tell me they're taking medication but still suffering. Unless you treat the underlying condition, which is often anxiety or stress, you're missing an important piece of the puzzle. We can work on training the brain to practice MBSR, manage symptoms, and improve quality of life."

The key to mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment and managing negative or worrisome thoughts that often accompany pain while focusing on relaxing the body. As this skill is developed and practiced, mindfulness can be used as a powerful tool at any time and in any place.

"The human body manifests physical symptoms in response to pain or stress and you can train your brain to be present while relaxing the body and mind," she said. "You can learn to recognize when symptoms occur. The goal is to make mindfulness more of an instant reflex instead of allowing anxiety and pain to overtake your thinking."

Mindfulness training involves learning to focus on -- and tap into -- all five senses; paying attention to breathing and heart rate; consciously relaxing the muscles; and being fully present. By developing a daily MBSR practice the brain can automatically begin responding to negative stimuli in healthier ways.

About Dr. Nina Appadurai

Nina Appadurai, Psy.D., is a Naperville-based clinical psychologist. Areas of expertise include depression, anxiety, chronic pain management, mood disorders (including perinatal), and sleep disorders. She works with individuals, couples, and families. For more information, visit www.naperpsych.com or contact Nina Appadurai, Psy.D., 630-849-5155. Most insurance plans are accepted.

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