Two Mindfulness Tools for Navigating Chronic Pain

By Dr. Jeanne Kloeckner, ODT, OTR/L, Certified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Instructor

Pain is real, and it is a very difficult and persistent challenge for many people. It is estimated that approximately 30% of the U.S. population lives with chronic pain. Despite its prevalence and impact on society, pain is not well understood. In order to effectively manage pain, we need to target not only the biological (bodily) factors, but also cognitive, emotional, behavioral, social and environmental factors.  When it comes to pain, the physical and emotional are inextricably intertwined. Each affects the others, all the time. So how do we got about addressing all of the components of pain?

One strategy for managing chronic pain is becoming mindful of our self-talk. Our self talk directly influences our emotions. Our emotions aren’t just in our head; they live in our body and impact our pain levels. Research shows that difficult emotions (stress, anger, sadness) amplify pain and positive emotions (relaxation, joy, happiness) reduce pain. What we think affects how we feel emotionally, how we feel physically, and how we behave.  

One recommended mind-body technique is using what is called the “3 C’s” approach. First, you catch your self-talk, simply noticing what you are telling yourself. Then, you check your self-talk, asking yourself if what you are telling yourself is true and accurate. Lastly, you work to change your self-talk, gently encouraging a kinder and more compassionate lens.

The words we use matter, we want to choose our words wisely, and we want to use words that express kindness and self-compassion. Another tip for using mindfulness to navigate chronic pain is to simply consider adding the word “yet” to thoughts and spoken words concerning your pain. For example, instead of thinking or saying “I’ll never be able to walk around the park again,” try shifting to “I’m not able to walk around the park yet.”

To learn more about using mindfulness to manage chronic pain, consider joining my upcoming class, Mindfulness as A Tool for Living with Chronic Pain, which will meet for 4 consecutive Mondays, July 1-22 from 6:00-8:30pm. You can learn more by clicking here.