New Year, No Pain: 4 Mindfulness Strategies to Improve Your Health in 2021
Stress and excess weight taxes your joints and worsens chronic pain. Incorporating mindfulness techniques into your daily behaviors can help you reduce your stress, weight, and chronic back and joint pain.
Mindfulness can be described as being acutely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment. It can be used any time of day, wherever you want. You probably can’t be mindful all the time, but with a little practice you can make it just as much a part of your daily behaviors as brushing your teeth is. Here we’ll discuss how to use mindfulness in four aspects of health: diet, movement/exercise, sleep, and stress management.
4 ways to incorporate mindfulness in your life
1. Mindful eating
Think of mindful eating as slowing down, enjoying your food, and paying attention to your body’s responses.
- Natural pauses. Look for natural stopping points while you’re eating. If something distracts you and you put your fork or sandwich down, before picking it back up, tune in to what your body is saying. Are you still hungry? If so, have a bit more. If not, stop eating and give yourself permission to have a snack later if hunger returns.
- Fullness and hunger levels. Before eating something, consider rating your hunger on a scale of -5 to 0. Try to not let yourself get to -4 or -5. People tend to eat faster, eat more, and go for the less healthy food choices when they’re overly hungry. You can use a 0 to 5 scale for fullness. Try not to let your fullness level exceed a 2 or 3. At 4 or 5, people tend to feel horrible, gain weight, get indigestion, and suffer other less-than-pleasant outcomes.
- Become eating-competent. Notice what your body is telling you. Before you sit down to enjoy your meal, are you taking time to look at your food and notice the colors and textures? Are you taking in its aromas and noticing the sensations it’s triggering in your body? Try it out and see what happens. The next time you’re hungry, put your favorite food in front of you and observe what it looks like and how it smells. Notice how your glands are reacting. Then, slowly begin to eat it. After a few bites, you might notice the aromas and flavors diminishing, your salivation decreasing, and your desire for that food becoming less than when you started eating it. That could be a good stopping point.
- Use tricks to slow down and eat smaller portions. Use pre-portioned amounts of food in your snacks and meals. This forces you to decide whether to go back for more or be content with the first serving. If what you’re eating isn’t pre-portioned, use a smaller plate and/or serving spoon. An interesting trick that will decrease the speed at which you eat is using your nondominant hand.
- Choose your foods wisely. Instead of grazing on whatever food is in front of you at get-togethers and holiday parties, consider the pleasure you’ll get from it. Is that cookie you’re about to eat delicious? If so, slowly enjoy it. If not, and you eat it anyway, it may leave you unsatisfied and searching for more. That’s how grazing can cause weight gain. Make it count.
2. Mindful movement
This can apply to posture and the way you hold and move your body throughout the day, or it can refer to your intentionality around moving more.
- Posture and general daily movement. As one of our participants said, “I feel like I’ve been moving like a soldier throughout the day.” She didn’t realize the posture she was forcing herself to maintain was causing more back pain, which then caused her to move less. She relaxed her posture,, began to hurt less, and began to move more. Another participant told me, “I had no idea I was walking with a limp until someone at work pointed it out.” She began paying more attention to how she moved while walking, and as a result began to walk without a limp. Her hip pain decreased, which enabled her to freely move her body more.
- Meditative movement. We strongly believe that movement is medicine, not only for the body but also for the mind. Find ways to move more every day. And when you do, pay attention to how your body feels. What sensations are you noticing? Gentle stretches, brisk walks, or an intense exercise class—whatever you choose, enjoy it and try to let go of thoughts outside of what you’re experiencing in the moment. Look here for a variety of free practices you can try.
3. Mindful sleep:
There are many theories about the connection between weight gain and sleeplessness, but one thing I hear often when I’m coaching people is that they make less healthful choices when they’re sleep-deprived. Let’s see how mindfulness before bed might help you get more restful sleep and manage your cravings better.
Here are some tips for mindful sleep.
- What are you doing while you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep? Mentally reviewing the next day’s to-do list? Ruminating on a stressful thought from the day? If so, mindfulness might be able to help. Try focusing on the softness of your bedding, the pillow, and the hum of the heater.
- You can try playing calming music or meditating before bed to help you stay in the moment. Changing your focus, especially when it’s to a more peaceful thought, can set you up for a more peaceful bedtime routine and better sleep.
4. Managing stress
Stress can create all sorts of problems for us, including chronic back and joint pain as well as weight gain. Regardless of what’s causing the stress, mindfulness can be a very important part of managing it.
- Try a variety of different mindfulness techniques. There are many ways people can approach using mindfulness to manage stress. From deep breathing to yoga, there’s something for everyone.
- Talk to someone. Contact your company’s benefits team to find out what options are available to help with stress management. This will give you space to process your thoughts and be more mindful in the way you deal with them.
- Give yourself a time out. If you find you’re ruminating on something, limit yourself to 30 minutes a day at a specific time of day. This allows you to process the stressful thought and keeps you from overthinking it, which can open up space to find perspective.
How Aida used mindfulness to lose weight and reduce chronic knee pain
To understand the role mindfulness can play in weight management and pain reduction, let’s take a look at Aida’s story. Aida signed up for the Hinge Health knee program when she saw that her company offered it as a benefit. From the beginning, she committed to doing the exercise therapy four times per week in spite of being busy with a full-time job and three young children at home. But even though she was committed to making time to do her exercises, she was so busy that for many years she lost sight of other important health practices. She was slowly gaining weight every year, which she attributed to mindless eating, not enough sleep, too much stress, and less overall activity. All of this added up to more knee pain.
Aida was hoping when she signed up for the knee program that she’d reduce her knee pain through strengthening and stretching, and she was also hoping she’d lose weight. Her goal was to work on establishing consistency with the knee program and then work on changing other behaviors that would help with weight loss. Instead of focusing on one or two new behaviors to implement in each area that she was struggling with, we worked together on incorporating mindfulness into each area. As a result, Aida was able to lose about five pounds in a few months. She now has less pain and is more motivated to continue pushing forward.
As Aida learned, implementing mindfulness techniques can help reduce pain through weight loss.
How Hinge Health can help reduce your chronic joint pain
At Hinge Health, we take a biopsychosocial approach to chronic joint pain, which research has validated as the gold standard for treatment. Our more holistic approach goes beyond digital physical therapy and includes tackling other related conditions like weight, mental health, and lifestyle and behavioral changes to resolve chronic joint pain. Hinge Health’s Digital MSK Clinic offers a complete clinical care model with dedicated physical therapists, physicians, health coaches, and sensor technology--all from the comfort of your home.
Hinge Health’s digital clinical model combines 1-on-1 video visits with dedicated physical therapists & health coaches and technology to more effectively reduce chronic back and joint pain at lower spend. To find out how Hinge Health can help you and your members improve outcomes at lower spend, request a demo below.
About the Author
Terri Finney is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach at Hinge Health with a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition Science from Indiana University. She lives in southern Indiana with her best friend, Buddy (Border Collie). Some of her favorite things (in no particular order) are: being outdoors (hiking, biking, camping, birding, gardening, artifact hunting, etc.), all types of exercise, music, arts/crafts/home decor. Her personal life goal is helping others achieve their personal health and wellness goals.