After a night of tossing and turning, I found that my nerves tend to get worse. The problem is that when your nerves become frayed, lack of sleep can leave you in a vicious loop, so learning to relax is essential for daily life.
When looking to treat neuropathy considering treatments that can help a person learn how to relax so that their quality of life can improve not only physically but emotionally and mentally should be an option.
Mind-body approaches provide a variety of benefits, including a greater sense of control, improved coping skills, decreased pain intensity and distress, changes in the way pain is perceived and understood, and increased sense of well-being and relaxation.
This approach focuses on the interactions among the brain, the rest of the body, the mind, and behaviour. The ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, experiential, and behavioural factors can directly affect health.
Can relaxation help?
According to a study in the International Journal of MS Care, 67 per cent of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and 43 per cent of peripheral neuropathy (PN) patients reporting the use of at least one form of complementary and alternative medicine in 12 months.
The study itself used 40 sufferers of MS and PN, who took part in a meditation challenge for two months. While meditation does not change the underlying disease, “the effectiveness of mind-body therapies may lie in their ability to facilitate stress reduction, relaxation, and improvement of mood”.
What meditation technique was used?
During each session, the patients practised three forms of meditation in a group setting that was divided into three parts, each lasting 30 minutes. The first part of the session consisted of walking meditation, the second part consisted of moving meditation, and the third part consisted of sitting meditation. Details regarding each technique are provided below.
With the six-part walking meditation technique, patients were instructed to focus their attention on each movement of the foot as they took a step forward. They were told to walk for 10 to 20 paces total, then turn around and walk back the same way. This was repeated for the 30-minute duration of the walking session. The six movements of the foot that they were instructed to concentrate on are as follows:
- Lift heel
- Lift toe
- Move forward
- Lower the foot
- Heel down
- Toe down
Participants were told to think of the movement first, and then concentrate as they physically took each step.
- Moving Meditation
Qigong and tai chi are Chinese mind-body exercises that are considered moving meditation techniques in which awareness and concentration are placed on breathing and specific movements of the body. Study participants performed basic tai chi manoeuvres, including neck rolls in which the head was moved slowly from side to side, ankle rolls, shoulder rolls, hip rotations, knee bends, and alternating pulling and pushing movements with the arms. This was followed by more well-known forms such as “cloud hands,” in which they slowly rotated their body from left to right with sweeping motions of the arms in front of them.Qigong is a more physically rigorous form of moving meditation with shortened and very quick but much simpler movements coupled with deep inhalations and forced exhalations. Focus is placed internally with this type of moving meditation. In contrast, the forms in tai chi are more complex and require outward focus.
Participants unable to completely perform all movements while standing because of fatigue, instability, or weakness were allowed to sit in a chair and practice with their arms.
- Sitting Meditation
Study participants performed samatha sitting meditation, a form of Buddhist concentration meditation in which the mind is focused on one point. Patients sat in a chair or on a cushion on the floor and were told to close their eyes and focus their attention solely on their breathing. They were instructed to breathe normally and observe the movements of the abdomen with each inhalation and exhalation.
Doing meditation at home
Meditation is one of the most widely used forms of complementary therapy, particularly as a palliative for chronic illness, but a lot of people are quite reluctant to practise it for either its possible religious and spiritual connotations. However, it is actually just a way of alleviating stress, hence it can be done by anyone.
Available meditation research is generally of low-to-modest quality, but tends to support this intervention for the reduction of stress and pain, and improving quality of life in a variety of medical conditions.
This meditation exercise is an excellent introduction to meditation techniques.
- Sit or lie comfortably. You may even want to invest in a meditation chair – but really not necessary.
- Close your eyes.
- Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
- Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Simply focus your attention on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity. If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath.
Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods.
I found this guided meditation particularly therapeutic. Just make sure you don’t have too many distractions, and prepare your environment, such as switching off lights beforehand. It can be done both lying down or in a sitting position – whatever is more comfortable for you.
If you prefer to meditate by yourself with no distractions, there are entire channels on YouTube dedicated to supposed “nerve regeneration”.
Binaural Beats claims to show increased nerve regeneration in the brain. Using some frequency modulators they say they are able to recreate the frequencies that encourage the treatment by allowing the the nerves to begin to regenerate.
This hasn’t been proven but the music is wonderfully relaxing nonetheless. However, just to warn you, many of the videos are over an hour long and if you don’t have an ad blocker, it can be rather alarming when it gets cut off in between.
What other forms of relaxation are there?
Relaxation and biofeedback are directed toward helping persons with chronic pain become aware of their ability to exert some control over physiologic processes of which they are not normally aware.
- Biofeedback – The stressors of nerve pain can be eased using biofeedback. Biofeedback is a mind and body relaxation technique that helps neuropathy sufferers learn about their body’s natural internal process to control relaxation. Patches, called electrodes, are placed on different parts of your body to measure your heart rate, blood pressure, or other function. A monitor is used to display the results. With help from a biofeedback therapist, they will describe a situation and guide you through relaxation techniques.
- EMG (Electromyograph) – The most common biofeedback therapy is the EMG. Because the EMG is used to help correct muscle pain and stiffness it can be the most useful for one suffering with stiff muscles as a result of nerve damage and lack of movement. The device that is used is called an electromyograph which is able to measure the electricity given off by the patient’s muscles.
- PST (Peripheral Skin Temperature) – A less common form of biofeedback is the PST. The PST is able to measure electrical impulses given off by the flow of a patient’s blood. By doing so, it is able to give information about skin temperature.
- EDR (Elecroderm Response) – An EDR is considered sweating biofeedback. It is able to monitor electricity produced by a patient’s sweating reflexes. This form is usually used to help with anxiety and depression.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG) – An EEG monitors the activity of brain waves linked to different mental states such as wakefulness, relaxation, calmness, light sleep and deep sleep. This process is also known as neurofeedback.
- Galvanic skin response training – Sensors measure the activity of a person’s sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on the skin, indicating the presence of anxiety. This information can be useful in treating emotional disorders such as phobias, anxiety and stuttering.
- Hypnosis – a state of deep relaxation, which involves selective focusing, receptive concentration, and minimal motor functioning. A National Institutes of Health Technology Panel found strong support for the use of hypnosis for the reduction of pain. Individuals can be taught to use hypnosis themselves (self-hypnosis), and the use of self-hypnosis can provide pain relief for up to several hours at a time.
- Massage Therapy – Massage therapy is looked at as a complementary therapy that when used in combination with other treatments can be beneficial in reducing nerve pain. One complication of neuropathy is the development of still muscles due to poor circulation or from lack of use. Adding weekly massage therapy sessions, one can improve blood circulation as well as help loosen stiffened muscles thus providing relief to the damaged area. It appears as though research has shown through several studies that massage therapy has a way of calming the stressed nerve endings and relinquishing the pent up stress found in the nerve endings.
While it may not conclusively help to heal our battle scars, it is always wonderful to try and find new ways of relaxing, freeing our day-to-day constant worries whether for chronic pain and illness, or just life in general. Everyone has a different method of relaxing, it’s just important to acknowledge it as part of our daily routine.