Category Archives: Mindfulness Meditation

Is There a Link Between Prolonged Psychological Stress And Physical Pain?

Featured Image of the ocean near the beach in the sun taken by myself. 

Dear Pain Matters blog readers,

Prolonged psychological stress can perpetuate chronic pain in some patients, while other people may be prone to chronic inflammatory diseases including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, depression, autoimmune diseases, upper respiratory infections and poor wound healing ability.

Immune cells are normally very sensitive to circulating stress hormones (glucocorticoids including cortisol), and as such, are usually able to shut down the pro-inflammatory response in the presence of glucocorticoids.

Chronic psychological stress can reduce the circulating stress hormone’s ability to interact with its receptor leading to glucocorticoid receptor resistance (GCR).

Repeated and ongoing exposure to a long-term threatening (real or imagined) and stressful experience can lead to insufficient glucocorticoid regulation (i.e. GCR), that in turn can lead to:

  • Insufficient control over the inflammatory response towards an infection;
  • Increased duration and/or intensity of the pro-inflammatory response; and
  • Increased pain levels and other signs and symptoms of chronic diseases.  

Studies have shown that some chronic stress sufferers (e.g. parents of children with cancer, spouses of patients with brain cancer and lonely people) present with GCR (Cohen et al, 2012).

Other Biomechanisms that Influence the Pro-Inflammatory Response and its Key Role in Maintaining Chronic Pain and Inflammation-Based Diseases:

See this Blog Post for more information:

What Can Done To Reduce Prolonged Psychological Stress?:

Steps must urgently be taken to reduce repeated and ongoing exposure to a prolonged threatening (real or imagined) and stressful experience.

This brings us to all those therapies that may induce the ‘relaxation response’ and/or lead one to a calmer disposition including:


Any therapy that can induce the ‘relaxation response’ is key to diverting attention away from repeated and ongoing psychological stress.

This will strengthen the immune cells’ ability to interact with circulating stress hormones (glucocorticoids including cortisol) and shut down an exaggerated pro-inflammatory response.

Conventional pharmacological treatment also plays an important role in reducing excessive inflammation.  The effectiveness of pharmacological drugs may be further enhanced by the body’s ‘relaxation response’, leading to lower drug dosages and fewer adverse effects.

The body’s innate ability to properly control a pro-inflammatory response is key to warding off chronic pain and disease.

Sabina Walker

“Sedare dolorem divinum opus est”
“It is divine to alleviate pain”

Galen, 130-200 C.E.



(1) Study Finds Link Between Stress And Physical Pain

Huffington Post (03 April 2012)


(2) Clynes, Manfred

Sentics: The Touch of Emotions

250 pp, Doubleday/Anchor, New York, 1977 – Chapter 9 only

Peer-Reviewed Paper

(3) Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, et al.

Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2012;109(16):5995-5999.




Mindfulness Meditation and Chronic Pain

Dear Pain Matters blog readers,

Recently, I bought a book that discussed the possibility of being pain-free through mindfulness meditation (Penman and Burch, 2013).

Science shows that mindfulness meditation may lead to reductions in:

(1) Pain;

as well as

(2) Emotional reactions toward pain (i.e. suffering due to pain and its unpleasantness).

A study involving healthy people showed that meditation reduced pain-related activation of the contralateral primary somatosensory cortex.  These meditation-induced decreases in pain levels also led to increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula.  Finally, meditation led to reduced ‘pain unpleasantness’ ratings (and activation of the orbitofrontal cortex) (Zeidan et al, 2011).

Okay, so what??  (you may ask…) 

In a nutshell, what this means is that mindfulness meditation can actually lead to real and identifiable changes in the brain, depending on a person’s dedication, devotion and commitment toward this ancient practice.

Furthermore, not only can mindfulness meditation lead to actual changes in the brain (as supported by studies), but it may also lead to brain-induced bodywide changes including improved immune function (more later).

Importantly, from a chronic pain patient’s perspective, regular mindfulness meditation may lead to reductions in pain intensity and/or suffering due to pain.

A Mindfulness Meditation Exercise:

(Please note:   I am not a mindfulness meditation expert….there are plenty of great books and papers on this topic….)

While deep breathing (comfortably),

(Try to) be in the (pain-free) moment.

Then repeat being in this (pain-free) moment.

Try to be in another (pain-free) moment,

And another (pain-free) moment,

And yet another (pain-free) moment….

And so on….

And continue to breathe deeply (and comfortably).

Do not allow yourself to be discouraged by any painful moments… these painful moments may also appear today….and even tomorrow….and even the day after tomorrow.  However, daily mindfulness meditation should result in fewer and fewer painful moments over time.

Remember that mindfulness meditation is about being in the (pain-free) moment.

Admittedly, a (pain-free) moment is not a very long time….but a million (pain-free) moments can sure add up….and this will inevitably lead to positive changes in the brain as well as throughout the body….that may translate into less pain and suffering.

Ultimately, mindfulness meditation is about living in the (pain-free) moment.


Practising mindfulness meditation can be done anywhere and anytime.  It can be done with the help of guided imagery, visual aids (e.g. see YouTube below), and relaxing music, or alternatively, with nothing at all except your own state of deep relaxation.

Please do not try this unless you are an accomplished freediver!

A Word of Caution:

Please note that practicing mindfulness meditation is not a replacement for conventional pain management strategies.

On a positive note, with proper medical supervision, practicing mindfulness meditation may lead to reduced reliance on conventional pain medication (and its adverse effects).

In Summary:

The aim of daily mindfulness meditation is to increase the number of pain-free moments, while decreasing pain and suffering altogether including reduced painful moments, lower pain intensity and duration.

Penman and Burch recommend that mindfulness meditation be done daily (10-20 minutes each time) for 8 weeks straight.  Thereafter, one may experience overall reductions in pain and suffering.

So what have you got to lose by following their advice? (other than pain?)

Stay posted…..I will write more on mindfulness meditation once I finish reading this excellent book by Penman and Burch (that I can recommend).

Sabina Walker


(1A) Danny Penman and Vidyamala Burch (2013)

Mindfulness for Health: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing

(1B) For German blog readers:

Danny Penman and Vidyamala Burch (translated into German in 2015)

Schmerzfrei durch Achtsamkeit: Die Effektive Methode zur Befreiung von Krankheit und Stress

(Paperback book, 299 pages)

(2) Zeidan et al; Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation; The Journal of Neuroscience (6 April 2011), 31(14):5540 –5548.

(3) Rachel Berl (15 October 2015); Washington Post

A New School of Thoughtfulness