BOSTON — Serious, chronic pain affects at least 116 million Americans each year, according to the Institute of Medicine.
But the best medicine may not be in a bottle, according to experts at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.
“My pain was ruining everything in my life,” said Joyce Evans, who came to the Benson-Henry Institute after a car wreck left her in chronic pain.
Evans had tried everything, from strong medicine to tai chi, to get some relief, but nothing worked until the pros there helped her tap into the power of her mind.
“It was a life-altering experience,” said Evans. “I was able to reduce my pain by about 75 to 85 percent, and I came off of 90 percent of the medications.”
”When we lower the stress response, we can lower the pain levels,” said Ellen Slawsby, Ph.D., the director of pain services at the Institute.
Slawsby taught Evans to use relaxation techniques, like meditation and “minis,” where you repeat a mantra for a few seconds throughout the day, to change how the body reacts to stress.
“It becomes sort of a cue for your body to relax,” said Slawsby.
“They may quietly to themselves repeat the words ‘I am’ as they breathe in and then ‘at peace’ as they breathe out,” said Aggie Casey, a registered nurse and director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at the Institute.
These techniques have helped people with chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia and arthritis, and Casey says it can also help tame cardiac killers, too.
“I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and I was having some heart problems,” said Jane Emerton, a participant in Casey’s program. “It’s changed my life.”
“They begin to shift their thinking, which immediately will shift their physiology,” said Casey.
“They don’t cost any money, you can do them anywhere, and they can change your life,” said Evans.
Experts also teach the importance of pacing yourself, learning your limits and accepting them so you can avoid negative thoughts. They say it makes a big difference in your health.