How Mindfulness Can Help with Pain - dummies

How Mindfulness Can Help with Pain

By Shamash Alidina, Joelle Jane Marshall

Pain can bring your life to a standstill. One of the recommended techniques for pain management is the mind-body approach, including mindfulness. You can’t do the activities you used to take for granted and may have to stop making long-term plans. Your pain can become your main focus above and beyond any other considerations.

The idea of using mindfulness for pain relief may appear strange to you. After all, the experience of pain is very physical, so why use mindfulness as if pain is a psychological issue? Well, although the physical pain is real, pain has a direct impact on your emotional wellbeing too, which feeds back into the physical discomfort.

When you experience prolonged periods of pain, you can ignore other signals from your body, which often sets up a pain cycle. You feel, say, mild levels of stress, anxiety or pain, but ignore them and keep going.

At some stage you then inevitably feel high levels of pain and crash out with no energy or focus at all. You end up avoiding daily activities, fearing the high levels of pain, and find that you see family and friends less often.

Mindfulness helps you to become more aware of the initial warning signs from your body, so that you can take appropriate action before the pain gets worse. At the same time, mindfulness ensures that you don’t shy away from activity altogether, out of fear of the pain returning.


To help understand how mindfulness assists with pain management, view pain as comprising the following three experiences:

  • Your physical pain: This is your physical experience of pain — the actual sensation that you directly feel in your body. Most people think of this as being the only dimension of pain.

  • Your emotional reaction: These are the emotions that arise for you as a result of the pain, such as anger, frustration and anxiety. This reaction to a challenging physical sensation that you don’t want to have is perfectly understandable.

  • Your mental reaction: These are the thoughts that arise in your mind. They can be negative thoughts about your past, present or future. These thought stories may be familiar and yet keep repeating in your head. They can also be so subtle that you don’t really know that they exist — but they take a real toll on you.

As you can see, two of the three pain components aren’t physical but connect to your mind and emotions. These problems are in fact emotional suffering. When you understand the difference between pain and emotional suffering, you can use mindfulness to reduce the latter and prevent your experience getting worse.

Pain is an inevitable part of life, but suffering isn’t. Mindfulness provides you with ways to alleviate your suffering.