In an effort to keep as many foreign substances outside of my circulatory system, I take as few drugs as possible. Since I suffer from arthritis of the hands, I have to resist the temptation to get into painkillers daily. I fear the side effects more than my hands hurting.
The Harvard Health Publications offer a number of techniques, some of them age old, that may reduce one’s need for pain medication.
The following techniques can help you take your mind off the pain and may help to override established pain signals.
1. Deep breathing. It’s central to all the techniques, so deep breathing is the one to learn first. Inhale deeply, hold for a few seconds, and exhale. To help you focus, you can use a word or phrase to guide you. For example, you may want to breathe in “peace” and breathe out “tension.” There are also several apps for smartphones and tablets that use sound and images to help you maintain breathing rhythms.
2. Eliciting the relaxation response. An antidote to the stress response, which pumps up heart rate and puts the body’s systems on high alert, the relaxation response turns down your body’s reactions. After closing your eyes and relaxing all your muscles, concentrate on deep breathing. When thoughts break through, say “refresh,” and return to the breathing repetition. Continue doing this for 10 to 20 minutes. Afterward, sit quietly for a minute or two while your thoughts return. Then open your eyes and sit quietly for another minute.
3. Meditation with guided imagery. Begin deep breathing, paying attention to each breath. Then listen to calming music or imagine being in a restful environment. If you find your mind wandering, say “refresh,” and call the image back into focus.
4. Mindfulness. Pick any activity you enjoy—reading poetry, walking in nature, gardening, or cooking—and become fully immersed in it. Notice every detail of what you are doing and how your senses and emotions are responding. Practice bringing mindfulness to all aspects of your life.
5. Yoga and tai chi. These mind-body exercises incorporate breath control, meditation, and movements to stretch and strengthen muscles. Videos and apps can help you get started. If you enroll in a yoga or tai chi class at a gym or health club, your health insurance may subsidize the cost.
6. Positive thinking. “When we’re ill, we often tend to become fixated on what we aren’t able to do. Retraining your focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t will give you a more accurate view of yourself and the world at large,” says Dr. Slawsby. She advises keeping a journal in which you list all the things you are thankful for each day. “We may have limitations, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still whole human beings.”