How meditation helps with chronic pain or anxiety

By Eleanor Moresco, M.D.
Hallmark Health Medical Associates

meditationChronic pain, stress, and anxiety disorders can take a toll on our physical and emotional health. While traditional medicine offers many treatment options, for some patients, physical therapy and prescription drugs are not enough.

When I see my patients struggling with these issues, I often point them toward meditation. Sometimes they look at me like I’m crazy – “Isn’t meditation a bunch of hippies, sitting in flowing robes, chanting, ‘Ohm’?”

That is one type of meditation, for sure, but there are many forms you can try to help manage chronic conditions. You may already be doing it without realizing it!

What is meditation?

Meditation is an ancient practice that comes from many different Eastern, Aboriginal, and Native American cultures. Traditional medicine focuses on our physical and emotional needs, while meditation also incorporates the “energy body.”

The energy body is important because many emotional and physical disturbances we struggle with originate as energy imbalances – negative emotions, thought patterns, and experiences. Meditation helps rebalance and improve the health of the energy body, which translates into physical and emotional wellness.

Meditation is about being in the present (the “now moment”), and focusing on bringing “high vibration” (positive energy) to yourself and releasing “low vibration” (negative energy) away from yourself. It’s different from positive affirmations, which focus solely on bringing positive energy to yourself without letting go of the negative.

Some people choose to use meditation only when they’re in pain or feeling stressed. Others, like me, incorporate meditation into their daily routine. I start off every morning with a series of meditations to help me find my energy balance before I walk out the door.

Types of meditation

There are many types of meditation. These are the three most common types to which I refer my patients:

  • Active meditation: You already may be doing this type of meditation. It happens when you “get in the zone” during exercise, such as yoga or running, and focus on nothing but your heartbeat, your breath, and the sound of your body movements. Another example is getting lost in a hobby you love, such as gardening or crochet. When you’re really in the now moment – in your “happy place,” dosing yourself with high vibration experience – and the rest of the world fades away, that’s active meditation.
  • Quiet meditation: This type is more of the traditional, sitting cross-legged, chanting form of meditation. It’s more of a disciplined, philosophical method. Quiet meditation also can include repetition of a mantra or dedicating a focused, concentrated block of time to acknowledge your low vibration energy (pain or stress) and consciously hand it off – so to speak – into the energy of the world around you. At the same time, you can quiet the mind and create a healing, restorative connection to the greater universe.
  • Guided meditation: In this type of meditation, a mentor or instructor will help you affect your high and low vibration energy with imagery, meditation music, and/or movement. Guided meditation in a group setting is great for people who are new to meditating because it provides some structure and shows them they are not alone in seeking additional tools to manage their wellness. But you also can do this on your own using DVDs or even YouTube videos to get started.

The typical doctor’s office visit isn’t set up very well for meditation – there’s little room, and the offices often are bustling with people. So, Hallmark Health Community Services has offered some evening groups to try this out.

Relieve chronic pain, anxiety, and stress with meditation

People who have chronic stress or anxiety, including panic attacks, can find meditation to be very soothing. Meditation offers a way to deal with the emotions in a disciplined, active way. Traditional medicine offers a wealth of options for dealing with stress and anxiety, but some patients are unable to find comfort with these methods.

Some anxiety medications cause unpleasant side effects, including stomach distress and decreased sexual desire. For people who find limited relief from prescription drugs, meditation can offer another tool to manage anxiety and stress anytime, anywhere without having to carry medication around all the time.

Chronic pain patients, such as people who have fibromyalgia, are prime candidates to try meditation. There is a limit to what traditional medications can offer these patients – mainly because the conditions are so varied and so little is known about their causes. Physical therapies or medication may not help enough, or help at the expense of unpleasant side effects or complicated regimens you can’t do just anywhere. Meditation is a non-pharmaceutical tool we can offer these patients to help manage their pain at home, work, school, or anywhere.

Does it work? For many people, yes. My chronic pain patients don’t tell me that their pain goes away completely. Instead, they tell me the pain recedes enough to allow them to focus less on the pain and more on their daily life. They feel less discomfort overall, and many feel like they have a better sense of wellness and the ability to do things. Meditation helps them focus on doing what they want and need to do, and the pain becomes more of a background presence rather than the major focus of each day.

To those who have never tried meditation, it may sound odd discussing it with a physician. But the techniques and disciplines have become much more mainstream, and can be beneficial on their own, or as a complement to your current therapy or medication. Meditation is no longer an “out there” concept – it’s a recognized, useful tool to help people all over the world manage symptoms of stress, anxiety, and pain anytime, anywhere.

Check back for my next blog, which will explain why there’s no wrong way or time to meditate. Seriously – anyone can do it any time, and it can really help in your life!

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