Lana Barhum is a legal assistant, patient advocate, freelance writer, blogger, and single parent. She has lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008 and uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness.
Hypnosis, relaxation, and meditation are often considered complementary therapies for disease and pain management. There have been numerous studies, in both adults and children, which have found that mind and body therapies provide many benefits, including decreased pain and stress, improved coping, and increased sense of well-being and relaxation.
Hypnosis is a therapy that produces a relaxed, trance-like state where the human conscious is temporarily turned out of focus through non-attention to distractions, such as pain. During hypnosis, a person is more open to specific suggestions.
Medical hypnosis has been shown to reduce pain and stress. One study from the National Institutes of Health found hypnosis to be quite useful in treating chronic pain associated with a variety of medical conditions, including cancer.
If you want to try hypnosis for pain management, you should contact a licensed or certified mental health professional who is specially trained in this technique. You can expect to spend at least one hour with your therapist for a first appointment and you may have short follow-up appointments. Your therapist will give you a post-hypnosis suggestion that will enable you to induce self-hypnosis once treatment is complete. Audio recordings are another option, and these walk you through the steps to achieve benefits from hypnosis.
Relaxation therapies include a wide range of techniques to reduce stress, anxiety, and pain. The most commonly used relaxation therapies are progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, and breathing.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation involves slowly tensing, holding, and releasing muscle groups starting from the toes and moving upward to create awareness of tension. It is called progressive because it involves all major muscle groups, relaxing them systematically, and eventually leads to total muscle relaxation.
Autogenic training (AT) involves visual imagery and body awareness to achieve relaxation. You imagine yourself in a pleasant and peaceful place and focus on physical sensations, such as your breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat, or body temperature. The goal of AT is to achieve deep relaxation and minimize stress. Once you learn the technique, you can use it whenever you need relief from pain and stress. The way AT works is not fully understood but its positive effects are numerous.
Breathing techniques teach and help people to breathe effectively to relieve stress and tolerate pain. The major types of relaxation breathing are rhythmic, deep, and visualized.
Rhythmic breathing requires you to slow down breathing through long, slow breaths. As you exhale slowly, you will notice your body relaxing.
Deep breathing involves breathing through your abdomen. With every long, slow exhale you take, you find yourself more relaxed.
Visualized breathing involves closing your eyes and combining slow breathing with your imagination. You imagine relaxation entering your body and tension leaving it with each inhale and exhale.
Evidence suggests that relaxation techniques are effective in reducing chronic pain related to a variety of medical conditions, including arthritis and fibromyalgia. The best way to learn these techniques is with the help of a trained professional, such as a therapist or a psychologist. You can also learn them through a group class and then practice them safely at home.
The benefits of meditation are pain tolerance, increased self-esteem, and a higher activity level. Meditation also helps to lessen stress, anxiety, and depressed moods. Moreover, people who practice meditation have been able to decrease their use of pain medications. According to one study, published in the October 2007 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, adults with rheumatoid arthritis who participated regularly in a meditation program experienced less emotional distress and had a better quality of well-being than those who did not meditate.
At least 10 percent of people in the United States have practiced some form of meditation, according to a survey reported by the National Institutes of Health. People with arthritis, fibromyalgia, MS, and other chronic pain conditions who practice meditation can come to terms with their pain and realize that their experiences are bigger than pain.
Meditation practices can be done either alone or in a group led by a health professional. Forms of meditation include deep breathing exercises, yoga-based meditation, chanting or use of mantras, and guided imagery or concentration on images of scenes.
To get started with guided meditation, either locate a local group or pick up a book or DVD from your local library.
Risks of mind/body therapies
Most mind and body therapies are generally safe for healthy people. There have only been rare reports that these therapies could cause or worsen symptoms for some people, especially those with psychiatric problems or a history trauma or abuse. These therapies are often used as part of a treatment plan for people with chronic diseases and should not be the only approach to serious health conditions.