Arthritis can be a constant companion in the lives of millions. Managing the pain and limitations it brings can be challenging, but there's a powerful tool that may help: mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a practice that involves being fully present in the moment, without judgment. It can be helpful in how people experience and cope with arthritis pain.
In this article, we'll explore how mindfulness can provide relief and improve overall well being for those living with arthritis.
Arthritis pain varies from person to person but often includes sensations of stiffness, aching, and pain in the affected joints. This chronic pain can be not only physically taxing but emotionally and mentally challenging as well.
Researchers estimated that approximately 2 out of 10 people living with arthritis also have anxiety or depression. In another study
published in the British Journal of General Practice, researchers noticed anxiety was 20 percent more often in people with rheumatoid
arthritis (RA) than those without.
Mindfulness involves paying full attention to the present moment, acknowledging your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations without judgment.
Another way to say it is that it’s the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
It’s about being free from distraction or judgement, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.
It is not about making pain disappear but changing your relationship with it.
Mindfulness techniques are increasingly being used in general practice to not only treat anxiety and depression, but for:
#1. Pain Acceptance: Mindfulness encourages acknowledging pain without trying to resist or fight it. This acceptance can reduce the emotional suffering that often goes with pain.
#2. Stress Reduction: Mindfulness practices like deep breathing and meditation can lower stress levels. Stress can worsen arthritis pain, so reducing it can lead to less pain overall.
#3. Improving Pain Tolerance: Mindfulness can help people develop better pain tolerance by changing their perception of pain. Rather than fearing pain, mindfulness can help you learn to coexist with it.
#4. Enhanced Emotional Well Being: By addressing the emotional toll of arthritis, mindfulness can improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, which often goes alongside chronic pain.
An example of how you may use mindfulness:
Imagine you wake up with morning stiffness, initial reactions might include frustration or worry about how this will affect your day – however, with a mindfulness approach, you take a few deep breaths and consciously bring your awareness to the sensation of stiffness in your body.
You acknowledge the stiffness is a temporary sensation, and it’s a part of your arthritis experience. Instead of resisting it or wishing it away, you offer yourself self-compassion and understanding.
By being present with your body and accepting the morning stiffness without judgment, you reduce the emotional stress that often
Take a few minutes each day to focus on your breath. Breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to four, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of six. This simple practice can calm the nervous system and reduce pain perception.
Lie down in a comfortable position and mentally scan your body, paying attention to areas of tension or discomfort. Allow your breath to bring relaxation to these areas.
Engage in gentle movements like tai chi or yoga, which promotes mindfulness through, slow, deliberate motions that connect the mind and body.
Try short meditation sessions focused on breathing or body awareness. Apps and online resources offer guided meditations specifically designed for pain management.
Sit with your back straight but relaxed. For the next minute, focus your entire attention on your breathing in and out, how air passes in and out of your nostrils, and how your abdomen rises and goes down with each breath. If thoughts start crowding in, gently let them go and refocus on your breathing.
Bring yourself into the present moment by asking yourself, ‘What is going on with me at the moment?’ You can label your thoughts and feelings — for example, ‘that’s an anxious feeling’ — and let them go. Don’t judge yourself. You may start to feel like more of an observer instead of someone reacting to thoughts and feelings.
#1. Consistency: Make mindfulness a daily practice, even if it's just for a few
minutes each day. Being consistent can help make mindfulness a daily habit that may lead to long-term benefits.
#2. Patience: Remember that mindfulness is a skill that develops over time. Be
patient with yourself and your progress,
#3. Seek Guidance: Consider joining a mindfulness class or working with a mindfulness
coach to deepen your practice.
If you need a good smartphone app, we have listed 5 mindfulness apps & resources:
Arthritis pain can be physically and emotionally taxing, but mindfulness offers a powerful means to cope. By embracing the present moment and shifting your relationship with pain, you may be able to reduce pain, improve emotional well being, and regain a sense of control.
Whether through mindful breathing, meditation, or gentle movement, the practice of mindfulness can be a valuable addition to managing
arthritis pain, and enhancing overall well being.
If you are interested in learning more about the evidence of Mindfulness & how it works, please do not forget to register for our upcoming webinar on 21 September 2023 or watch the webinar recording.
Talk with a peer-mentor in our free Arthritis Assist service.