Relaxation. It’s a simple concept, but something that can be incredibly difficult to achieve – especially for those with chronic pain. But being able to take your mind off your pain, if even just for a few minutes, can significantly improve your pain levels and benefit your physical and mental health.
How Relaxation Helps
Relaxation techniques can be different for everyone – from meditating or doing breathing exercises to crafting or gardening. But the results are the same: Relaxation aids in the reduction of stress, which can benefit your whole body. Stress causes muscle tension throughout your body, which in turn can cause your pain to worsen. Relaxation exercises help you ease that built-up tension in your body, reducing pain. The stress relief that relaxation brings can also improve sleep patterns, one of the main problems that people with chronic pain experience.
On top of that, certain relaxation activities like meditation can actually help release endorphins, your body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. Endorphins lead to a natural boost in your mood and can help you relax even further.
Even for those utilizing medication for their pain, relaxation is beneficial. In fact, medications work best when they are used in conjunction with stress-relieving activities, along with exercise and lifestyle modifications.
Choose Your Activity
The activity itself can be a variety of things, but what really matters is that it absorbs your attention, taking your thoughts off your pain levels and refocusing them on something you enjoy doing. According to an article published on CNN.com, our bodies are only able to process a certain amount of information at a time. Therefore if you’re doing something that truly engrosses you, you won’t have enough attention left over to constantly monitor your pain levels.
Many people find meditation to be that key activity that allows them to refocus their minds. It can also fight inflammation. When people think of meditation, they often envision mindfulness meditation, in which you focus on your breathing and clear your mind, but that’s only one of a variety of meditation techniques. If you’re looking for other options, consider using guided imagery or breathing techniques to help your body relax.
According to the CNN article, crafting carries many of the same benefits as meditation. Activities like quilting, painting or making things with your hands can spur the release of dopamine, a pleasurable chemical found in the reward center of the brain. Plus, seeing the finished product around your home can actually cause your body to release dopamine again and again. In addition, many hand-based crafts may help reduce arthritis and joint pain by helping to lubricate the joints, thus improving function.
Gardening – even if it’s just small indoor herb garden – may also be the key. For gardening expert Melinda Myers, “The rhythm of some garden tasks . . . redirects your thoughts to the action and away from your stresses and worries.”
Incorporate your Senses
If simply performing your chosen relaxation activity isn’t enough to completely take your mind off your pain, and you still can’t let go of those nagging thoughts in the back of your mind, consider a multisensory approach. Creating the ideal environment for all of your senses might just be the key.
For instance, many essential oils are useful for fighting pain, while others boost relaxation. For a meditation session, consider Roman chamomile, which relieves stress and decreases inflammation. And for crafting, choose basil, which energizes, uplifts and relaxes your muscles. There are a plethora of oils available to help you obtain your desired mood. Put them in a diffuser or oil warmer to get the scent circulating around your home.
And did you know that music can also help reduce the perception of pain and spur the release of dopamine – and singing along is a great way to release tension. Even just humming has been shown to calm the mind and reduce stress. Music with a faster beat will encourage more concentrated thinking, while a slower one is good for meditative states.
So next time you can’t get your pain off your mind, grab some yarn or a paint brush, plug in some pain-reducing oils and crank up your favorite music – and don’t be afraid to belt out the lyrics along with it.