Mindful Tools for Coping with Pain

This past Tuesday, I had my first copper IUD inserted by the amazing folks at Planned Parenthood. While I’m thrilled about the prospect of having non-hormonal contraception for the next decade, I have to confess…

The last few days have been absolute hell. 

Or at least there were moments of hell mixed in with a few solid hours binge-watching The Good Place on Netflix and an unhealthy helping of mashed potatoes from my favorite diner.

I’ve always believed that our bodies experience physical pain for a reason, normally to warn us of something tangible such as imminent danger or, more often, as an unavoidable clue that we need to slow the fuck down. For me, it was definitely the latter, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some definite moments when I thought that the damn copper thing was killing me softly.

Whether you’re coping with post-IUD insertion pain like me or are confronting a chronic condition that has been impacting your life in one way or another for years, we can all benefit from a little mindfulness when it comes to pain management. Look, I’m no doctor, but I can personally attest to the peace these simple tools have given me over the past few days. Sure, all of these tips were accompanied by a handful of Advil, my trusted hot water bottle, and days mostly spent lounging in bed, but I truly believe that I wouldn’t be writing this article right now if it weren’t for my mindfulness practice.

So, without further ado, here’s what’s been working for me:

Just Freakin’ Breathe

I know, coming from a yoga teacher this seems like an obvious one, right? But trust me, even this dedicated yogi had to consciously remember to return to her breathe while the sweet gyno dilated my cervix. Deep breathes, even in times of enormous pain, are extremely helpful (why do you think birth coaches, midwives and doulas have been coaching women to breathe during labor for the last thousand years?).

For me, consciously sending my breathe to my abdomen throughout the insertion process was super helpful. Not only did it actually lessen the pain a bit, but it helped me avoid my usual panic that sets in whenever I have to have a medical procedure done. Instead of passing out, getting sweaty, or having a panic attack, I just kept my arms lifted above my head and breathed. And you know what? The whole ordeal was over in about 10 minutes.

Try Journaling

One of the worst side effects of pain is isolation. Whether you’re physically cooped up in your apartment by yourself as you rest or feel like others are lessening your pain, we’ve all probably sensed that feeling of loneliness when we’re under the weather at one point or another. So, here’s my proposal: write it all down. Validate your own feelings of yuckiness and pain. Write down everything you’re feeling and, equally important, write down all the reasons those experiences are legitimate. Write yourself a letter stating how brave you are and that you can get through it. Channel your own inner best friend and let her run the show for a bit…you might be shocked how much better you feel afterwards.

Stop Trying To Do It All

Women in particular are trained from an early age to suck it up and live life with pain. Think about it, do you know a man that would tolerate monthly period cramps, boob tenderness, or the absolutely horrific experience that is childbirth? Would your husband, brother, or boyfriend let his nipples crack to a crisp from breastfeeding? Would he suffer through migraines, UTIs, yeast infections, and yearly speculum pokings? I don’t think so.

Women are also categorically denied proper medical care when we seek it (if you don’t believe me, just Google “women heart attack symptoms”) and we are also thrown into a society that expects us to not only carry on with our normal lives during times of pain, but to do it with a Pinterest-worthy smile.

Repeat after me girls: I am a human and I have limitations sometimes. 

As much as we may claim to be Super Mom or Career Mogul of the Century, we’re all just humans. And, believe it or not, humans get sick and experience pain sometimes.

So please, for the love of God, take a break. Call your in-laws and take them up on their offer to watch the kids. Tell your husband you need the night to yourself. Cancel those after-work plans that you’ve been dreading for the last 4 days. Call in sick (because, whoa, you actually are!) and take care of your body. Trust me, it’s desperately trying to tell you something.

Acknowledge The Pain

I know, that sounds absolutely insane right? Hear me out.

Part of living a mindful life is living in the here and now, not in some idealized version of a life we claim we want. This is super easy when things are going great, but it’s a hell of a lot harder when you’re curled up in bed clutching a heating pad and the $10 teddy bear your spouse bought you from Walgreens (that totally wasn’t me at all 3 days ago…).

Instead of trying to push your physical sensations aside, look them straight in the eye. Confront the pain head on, but without judgment. Instead of thinking, “FUCK! This is so stupid and I want to run back to Planned Parenthood this instant to have them take this modern torture device out” (again, definitely not something I actually said out loud….), try saying, “okay, that’s pain. I’m going to sit with it right now.”

Allow yourself permission to experience pain. Allow yourself permission to spend the afternoon curled up on the couch watching Marie Kondo excitedly tackle some hoarder’s house mess. Eat your favorite food simply because it makes you feel comforted. Give in and stop trying to control a situation that you simply cannot control. Sometimes, the best medicine is giving in to the greater powers at be and going with it.

Keep Calm and Reheat Your Hot Water Bottle,

The Yogi Lawyer

One Comment Add yours

  1. esoterica says:

    I’m on my second copper IUD and, as much as I absolutely love the carefree and hormone-free birth control, those first few months post-insertion are a pure and inescapable hell. Your tips are spot on, and I especially love your suggestion to acknowledge and sit with the pain–it’s not going anywhere, so we might as well accept it. Good luck, and enjoy your newfound freedom! It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 🙂

    Just as a PSA to you and any readers, be sure to keep up your annual wellness visits! Even though it doesn’t release hormones, the copper IUD can interfere with things a bit….I’ve developed lots of polyps (all benign), ovarian cysts/PCOS and slightly elevated copper levels over the past decade. Nothing crazy enough to make me remove this miraculous and life-changing medical device, but enough that I like to remind all IUD users not to wait 10 years for their next checkup. 🙂

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