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How can you focus when you are struggling with pain?

Issues with concentration, memory, and thinking often accompany chronic pain.

You may find it more difficult to absorb and retain information, focus on the task at hand, solve problems, and make thoughtful decisions. Learning how to shift your focus away from pain–toward something you find interesting, invigorating, and gratifying– is a critical step in training your brain and nervous system away from chronic pain.

Distractions are inevitable, but if you’re struggling to focus on the task at hand, explore different ways to consciously shift your attention. Practice slow, deep breathing to reduce the intensity of pain and help you maintain focus. Since your breath is the link between your body and mind, you can consciously control and regulate your breath to soften the intensity of pain and calm your thoughts. If you feel a build-up of intense emotions, find outlets for expressing frustration and anxiety with movement and expression: go for a walk, dance to your favorite song, or try some form of mindful movement. Over time, a consistent meditation practice can increase your ability to focus your attention and filter sensory information in a way that helps shift your relationship to pain and reduce suffering. In general, relaxation practices can help turn down the volume of pain so you can remain focused on what’s most important to you in the present moment.

Other recommendations include changing your environment, cutting out distractions, and solo-tasking (rather than multi-tasking). In other words, work through the things you want to accomplish, one at a time. Breaking a bigger goal into smaller steps, as well as celebrating the little wins and rewarding yourself along the way, can help when you’re feeling distracted. By building a concrete idea of what you want to achieve despite the pain, you can re-direct your attention when distractions arise. 

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