You know the saying, “No pain, no gain?” Unfortunately, it doesn’t apply to the workplace. Over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and still, the value of lost annual productivity is estimated up to $335 billion. To put it in perspective, chronic pain affects more people in America than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. Worse, the rate of prescription of opioids as painkillers has tripled over the past two decades. So it’s no surprise that in recent times, as many as 16,651 people die in a single year due to an overdose on prescription opioids. Despite this marked increase in prescription rates, the Institute of Medicine says that little progress has been made to help the alarming pain epidemic.
Dealing with long-term chronic pain is not only about the physical effects. It can also cause major emotional and mental stress. Managing pain can become a full-time job, reducing your quality of life. Sometimes, it can even lead to serious complications like depression. The use of prescription opioids poses growing medical and social risks for employees who struggle with chronic pain.
This demands effective initiatives to help with pain management. Chronic pain not only inhibits overall employee wellbeing, but their ability to perform their jobs well. While prescribing employee leave time might seem like an effective short-term option, providing a lasting solution would be much more impactful for the individual and the company. Enter mindfulness training programs.
How mindfulness works against pain
If you’re familiar with the Whil blog, you know that mindfulness is taking the corporate world by storm. But what you might not know is mindfulness can be just as effective for pain management. How? A recent study found that mindfulness works on a different pathway than opioids pain relievers by engaging the cognitive sensors that support the control of pain. Thus, it teaches individuals how to manage the emotional and activity impact of pain. This doesn’t mean resignation to pain or its symptoms; that just goes against the unsuccessful instinctive attempt to avoid it. Mindfulness as a tool for pain management is aimed at changing the way the mind perceives pain by creating quality awareness of one’s thoughts, body or surroundings. In essence, you change the way you think about the pain. Whil’s own CEO turned to mindfulness to help manage debilitating back pain from two herniated discs in his early 40s.
Unlike pharmacotherapy, mindfulness training works not only with pain, but improves wellbeing in other areas like sleep, social functioning, vitality, physical functioning and coping ability - areas often impacted as a side effect of drug treatment. Research shows that mindfulness through pain processing reduces pain symptoms by reducing anxiety and increasing cognitive control. It helps people with chronic pain observe their conditions with curiosity rather than judgment. Also, it reduces discomfort by improving the ability to cope with pain in a calm emotional state. The best way to deal with the feeling is to engage the pain just as it is. How about that?
Mindful ways to ease your chronic pain
Here are some mindfulness practices to effectively deal with pain management:
1. Try yoga.
A 2013 meta-analysis of yoga for low back pain found that individuals who practice yoga regularly significantly reduce short- and long-term low back pain, and back pain-specific disability. Additionally, yoga can significantly enhance muscular strength and body flexibility - both of which can help loosen up your tight muscles and joints to ease discomfort.
2. Do a body scan.
One of the most basic mindfulness practices can have a big impact on the experience of pain. Breathe deeply while holding your attention gently on your pain points. Just 3 days of brief mindfulness training was effective at reducing pain ratings and sensitivity, producing analgesic effects.
3. Increase your pain threshold.
Mindfulness helps people be in the present moment. It turns out that this helps diminish pain. Studies have found that people report a reduction in pain when compared to treatment with medication. Mindfulness meditation was found to decrease pain ratings by a whopping 21%.
As the famous saying goes, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Go on and try different mindfulness practices to ease your aches and pains. Warning: You might have to deal with the side effects (including but not limited to): increased satisfaction, happiness, creativity and productivity. Still believe in the saying, “No pain, no gain?”
Posted by Maaheem "Mak" Akhtar- 16 August, 2017
Mak is a former writer at Whil.