Joy Stone is a positive psychology coach and yoga teacher based in Los Angeles. Recently, several PMIR team members had the pleasure of attending a talk given by Joy on mindfulness and positivity, and we felt that the topic resonated deeply with our commitment to a holistic and integrative approach to pain management. Here are some important points from her talk and why we believe they are relevant to managing your pain.
One of the first things Joy talked about is a common myth surrounding happiness. Many people think that happiness is limited to a reactionary state—an emotion you experience when something good happens. Joy thought about it differently: happiness, like mindfulness and positive thinking, is actually a practice that requires conscious behavior and active engagement on behalf of the individual in order to maintain. This is also the most fundamental aspect of pain management, agency and participation in your own healing process.
Engaging in successful pain management includes developing a positive psychological relationship to your pain, which is a concept that Joy addressed: “Experiencing pain doesn’t mean that we are somehow less human… it simply means that we are human. How we relate to challenge is an important factor in whether or not we thrive or layer unnecessary suffering on our experience.”
Getting caught up in animosity towards your pain puts you in competition with your own body, which then propels you into an unhealthy cycle of negativity. Instead, Joy encourages patients to implement a positive psychology, one that encourages you to focus on healing practices that are holistically beneficial for you as an individual. It encourages you to look to alternative modalities of both healing and joyfulness, focusing on healing and improving rather than getting stuck on the pain and its negative impact.
We do not mean to imply that smiling will simply make your pain go away; we know that chronic pain is multi-layered and will not disappear overnight. You can, however, control the way you relate to your pain, choosing to focus on your own agency in the healing process: “Through mindfulness practices and positive thinking we learn to shift our focus from our pain to our health; from what we can’t change in this moment to what we can transform; and to observe how our thoughts impact our wellbeing.”
Joy also talked about the role of mindfulness in pain management. Mindfulness is essentially the practice of living in the moment and being present and responsive to one’s reality; “When we practice mindfulness we allow ourselves to simply be with what is.” In the context of pain management, this means listening to your body and taking your healing process one day at a time.
Instead of suppressing, hating or ignoring your pain, mindfulness means listening to and receiving the pain in all its complexity. For example, if you experience back pain, you may not be paying attention to your breath because you are so focused on your back. However, practicing mindfulness means listening to the collateral effects of chronic pain, like your breathing. This example is so relevant because often, people who experience chronic pain do not breathe properly. Their breathing is shallow, originating from their chest as opposed to their stomach. Shallow breathing induces stress, and stress is the last thing a chronic pain patient needs. In practicing mindfulness, hopefully you can recognize when your breathing becomes shallow and take action to change that.
There is a lot of research out there that seeks to legitimate positive psychology and mindfulness within the world of medicine. Joy Stone presented some of it to us, and she continues to spread the teaching through coaching sessions. PMIR supports these practices, as well as other complementary therapies, as integral components of comprehensive pain management.