Mindfulness is about paying attention to something on purpose and without judgement, instead using fresh eyes.
It’s human nature to want to avoid pain. When you experience it, you want it to go away – immediately. The last thing you want to do is pay more attention to it.
Your mind wants to judge your pain, ruminating on how unpleasant it feels, how much you dislike it and how badly you want it to stop. Your mind begins brainstorming ways to escape the pain, desperately searching for a solution.
This mental struggle and cloud of negative thoughts can make your pain worse, adding more fuel to the fire by generating stress.
Doing your best to be present with your pain just as it is, without engaging with the mental melee, can help you to relate to your pain differently. That’s what mindfulness aims to do.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to something on purpose and without judgement, instead using fresh eyes. Rather than letting your mind jump to and dwell on negative thoughts about your pain, you observe it with curiosity, exploring the sensations as they come and go from your body. This allows you to see your mind and body as they really are and let go of struggling with them.
Whilst it may seem counterintuitive, the practice of paying attention to your pain can actually be helpful. The critical distinction here is that being aware of your pain is very different to thinking about your pain. Bringing awareness to the present moment as it is, rather than distorting it with layers of critical thinking, releases some of the additional burden and can provide a more accurate picture of what you’re experiencing.
Studies have shown that over time, mindfulness can change the structure of the brain which in turn helps to improve wellbeing. Mindfulness-based strategies include simply focusing on your breath or bringing awareness to each area of your body, part by part – particularly areas that your mind wants to avoid – in a full body scan.
Alternately, focusing your full attention on a distraction can make something else seem more important to your brain, rather than dwelling on your pain and discomfort. Pick a healthy distraction that will stimulate your brain or soothe your stress, like concentrating on a conversation with a friend, reading a book or playing a game.
“People go through so much pain trying to avoid pain”
– Neil Strauss