Finding Hope at the Intersection of Chronic Pain and Mindfulness

man in pain


Chronic pain can easily take over your life, whether you're awake or asleep. That constant pain challenges you to focus on anything else.

More than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Some 20 percent of them say that their pain disrupts their sleep throughout the week. Chronic pain and lack of sleep is a recipe for fatigue, anxiety, and depression--all of which have potential to amplify pain symptoms. In fact, studies suggest that 60 percent of pain patients also experience depression, according to Harvard Health.

"It's important to learn to accept emotions and thoughts around pain and not struggle against it, which brings extra pain and suffering," says Raby Institute Integrative Psychotherapist Erin Brewer, MA.

The most commonly reported sources of pain include:

  • Low back

  • Severe headache or migraine

  • Neck

  • Facial

Source: American Academy of Pain Medicine

Unfortunately, since the 1980s, the medical community has tended to treat chronic pain with what have turned out to be highly addictive drugs called opioids. Last January, the National Institutes of Health announced that treatment with opioids had created a "silent epidemic" and that physicians needed to focus on non-drug approaches to managing chronic pain.

At the Raby Institute, the Integrative Psychology team practices mindfulness with patients who have chronic pain.

"Mindfulness is being open and non-judgemental of your experience. It's accepting your thoughts and feelings for what they are," Brewer says.

She helps patients identify their feelings and what their minds are telling them. Often, those feelings involve questions such as:

  • Why did this happen to me?

  • Am I putting a burden on my family?

  • Why can't I do the things I used to do?

"They're feeling guilty and mourning a loss of things that were important to them," Brewer explains.

Accepting those feelings takes practice, and Brewer recommends apps like Stop, Beathe, and Think; Calm; and Headspace.

"It's a skill like any other skill to be able to be present with pain but without judgement," Brewer says.

For more information on using mindfulness to cope with chronic pain, call (312) 276-1212 to make an appointment at the Raby Institute. You can also learn more about the Integrative Psychology team here.

"Dr. Raby is bright, intelligent and knows how to communicate with people. She helps you to help yourself. She sees things differently than other physicians, in a way that helps the healing process."
- Raby Institute patient