Do you have chronic pain or mind-body symptoms, and your doctor told you your pain is due to stress, trauma, or neuroplasticity? Have you read all the TMS books, listened to the popular mind-body podcasts, and tried all the mindfulness techniques under the sun? Yet, still, your pain is ever present? If this describes your pain journey, then this blog is for you. Keep reading to learn why the neuroscience and mindfulness techniques you have been applying aren't working to cure your chronic pain.
First, what is considered a mind-body symptom, and how do you know if your pain is neuroplastic?
The umbrella of diagnoses under the mind-body symptoms category are as follows: migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic back pain, pelvic pain, IBS, whiplash, tendonitis, spinal stenosis, arthritis, and many other equivalents. Mind-body syndrome, also known as tension myositis syndrome (TMS), or neuroplastic pain, has been researched for decades.
Sometimes doctors may explain the cause of these symptoms as stress, trauma-induced, or even medically unexplained. However, research by accredited individuals in the medical space like Dr. Sarno, Dr. Schechter, Dr.Schubiner, and many institutes like the Pain Psychology Center and the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association further describe these diagnoses to be caused by the "neural pathway changes in the brain that can lead to persistent pain."
Due to the nervous system experiencing prolonged mental and emotional stress, "the brain misinterprets [s] safe messages from the body as if they were dangerous." In other words, specific behavioral patterns, low levels of resilience to stress, and unresolved stress lead to a hypersensitive and hypervigilant nervous system. As a result, the nervous system becomes confused and anxious and causes chronic physical pain.
Luckily, neuroplastic pain, which is the cause of most chronic pain cases, is reversible! Research shows that mindfulness techniques can help chronic pain patients boost resilience to stress, reset the nervous system, and break the pain-fear cycle to fix their pain problems completely. However, there are more requirements to curing mind-body symptoms than simply practicing mindfulness techniques.
First, you must understand why your mind-body symptoms have occurred to get to the root of what is causing your nervous system to feel threatened and confused.
Why do mind-body symptoms occur?
As I briefly discussed in the last section, mind-body symptoms are connected to unresolved stress, trauma, and repressed emotions. In addition to these traits, the onset of mind-body symptoms occurs either during a significant life-changing event, a stressful period in life, or from built-up repressed emotions over a long period.
How we respond to stress is determined by our character and behavioral traits. If you are familiar with the books and research studies based on the mind-body approach like Dr. Sarno's book, "The Mindbody Prescription," personality traits associated with the mind-body syndrome are: 1) Perfectionism, 2) Goodison/People Pleasing, 3) Legalist, 4) Stoic, 5) Anxiety and Fear, 6) Low Self-Esteem 7) Hostility and Aggression, 8) Dependency.
These personality traits are common and, at certain times in life, could have been a positive trait that led to the survival of a stressful event. However, these personality traits also lead to self-pressure, repressed emotions, and a lack of ability to acknowledge one's true needs. As a result, this causes negative thinking, increased anxiety, lowered self-esteem, disconnection from the self and others, and leads to the nervous system feeling more unsafe and in danger- leading to neuroplastic pain.
Neuroscience research proves that taking a psychological approach to chronic pain can resolve symptoms. Patients must learn to successfully manage stress, rewire the brain through journaling and unleashing repressed emotions, engage in activities, and do things they enjoy. However, if you are following these guidelines and your pain is still unresolved, one foundational piece that could be missing from your routine is mindset.
What to do when mindfulness techniques don't work.
ewiring the brain and treating the nervous system to cure chronic pain syndrome is a proven treatment method. However, mindfulness techniques like breathwork, journaling, and somatic tracking are not as beneficial to the healing journey if one's mindset isn't aligned with the mind-body approach.
Whenever mindfulness techniques are done with a high level of self-pressure, expectations, or hyper-vigilance, it keeps the nervous system on high alert for the symptoms. Having extreme focus on sensations during mindfulness techniques can lead to the nervous system feeling more in danger and increases the risk of setbacks or negative preexposure.
How to begin healing TMS symptoms
When you engage in mind-body techniques with an expert, they can safely guide you to observe discomforting sensations with ease to rewire the brain and reverse symptoms.
There is more to the mind-body approach than just practicing mindfulness techniques and studying neuroscience to heal chronic symptoms. A large part of your healing journey will include improving your ability to identify your stress state, identifying unhealthy coping mechanisms, and changing certain behavioral patterns to reclaim safety in the mind-body.
An example of mindfulness to boost resilience to general stress:
You wake up every morning to practice breathwork. You feel good afterward and can more easily brush off a guy cutting you off on the freeway last that morning. Practicing breathwork helped widen your window of tolerance and decreased your chances of becoming triggered.
Boosting resilience to stress and pain long-term:
To practice mindfulness during a discomforting scenario, you would first identify your stress state, observe your thoughts and emotions, and respond to stress effectively by identifying your needs. This process helps you to gain a deeper understanding of your triggers and react effectively.
The best time to engage in mind-body techniques is during times when you can challenge fear-based behavioral traits and gain positive reexposure to triggers that allow you to rewire the brain and eventually reverse mind-body syndrome.
If you have chronic pain symptoms and are interested in pain coaching or Pain Reprocessing Therapy, click here to schedule a free consultation. Get expert tips to help you identify your triggers and the behavioral patterns keeping you stuck in the Pain-Fear Cycle.