This informal CPD article A Guide To Managing Pain At Work was provided by Centre of Excellence, a worldwide online training provider. We’ve all had days when our head aches or our body creaks, and heading into the office or settling down to work seems impossible. But what if this was every day? Thousands of workers globally get up and go to work while living with chronic pain every single day. For some, the pain is so debilitating that they are left unable to work.
It’s a myth based on misunderstanding to say those with chronic pain don’t want to work. Agonising though it may be, sometimes people’s chronic pain becomes so much a part of their everyday life that they choose to learn to live with it. In fact, sometimes work can offer blessed relief and distraction.
But what do you do when your pain seems off the scale and too much to handle? It’s natural to want the pain to just go away. But when it comes to chronic pain, some turn to mindfulness practices to not only manage their pain, but change their entire belief system about their feelings, bodies, and how they react to all sensations.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that pain is our body’s way of alerting us to something that is not right. By being more mindful and aware of our pain, we might challenge what we think we feel. For example, it is perfectly understandable for those living with chronic pain to wake up every morning with the belief that their day will be painful. However, for many sufferers, chronic pain ebbs and flows. So, by confronting our pain as something to understand rather than block out, hard though this may be, we might feel more prepared – armed with knowledge about when our pain feels better or worse throughout the working day.
There’s a five-step method you can work through that may help you to live with chronic pain:
- Awareness - Become aware of your pain and all that you feel in the present moment. This is the starting point of mastering mindfulness for pain.
- Move towards the unpleasant - Learn not to block out or wallow in your pain. Develop a curiosity and understanding of your pain by shedding light on it.
- Seek the pleasant - Take note of the good sensations, not by blocking out the bad, but by acknowledging that there is no light without dark and that we can choose on which we focus.
- Broaden your awareness - See yourself and your pain as interconnected parts of a much bigger whole – a world constantly changing.
- Responding Versus Reacting - Learn to make choices when it comes to your pain and how you respond to it and in a manner best for you at that moment.
These five steps are the basis of most mindfulness practices. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to grasp them successfully every day as you begin your journey. There are plenty of small ways in which you can manage pain and stress through mindfulness.
Here are some further techniques to try next time you have pain at work:
- When you wake, start your day with a few quiet moments of reflection, acknowledging how you feel
- Make your commute mindful by being observant of everything around you, acknowledging any tension you might feel and letting it go
- When you sit down to start work, take a moment to pay attention to your bodily sensations – if you’re experiencing pain, take a moment for deep breathing
- Throughout the day, take regular, relaxing breaks and change your environment by going for a walk or eating lunch outside
- If you feel yourself rushing or building stress throughout the day, revert back to your deep breathing and notice things in your environment that ground you, such as the feel of your desk or the noise of your workspace
- Before you head home, check in with the sensations you’re feeling and sit quietly for a moment with your eyes closed, practising your deep breathing
- Retrace your day and congratulate yourself, your mind, and your body for all that you’ve accomplished
- When you get home, take a moment to notice the transition in your environment – say hello to roommates or family members or, if you live alone, breathe in your quiet space.
If you feel your pain becoming unmanageable and you’re struggling, try the STOP method:
S: Stop what you’re doing
T: Take a breath
O: Observe your feelings
P: Proceed with something that serves you better at that moment
These techniques and many more, such as meditation, journaling, laughter, light movement, and pain visualisation, might shed some light on your pain, its patterns, and how best to manage it. So, before you try to drown out your pain or write yourself off, remember that you have it within you to live well on your own terms, whatever that may look like on any given day.
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