What do you do when chronic pain becomes too much to deal with? Chronic pain is a constant battle for many Warriors. Those with chronic symptoms use more energy to do normal daily activities than the average Joe. In addition, the experience of chronic pain itself can make shifts in relationships, finance, spirituality, social wellbeing, and more due to symptoms and fear of symptoms.
So, how does one break the vicious cycle of chronic pain and the trauma and stress it causes on one's overall wellbeing? Keep reading below to learn three expert tips that will help you boost resilience and heal from the trauma of chronic pain.
What is chronic pain trauma?
The nature of how we experience life relies on our mindset, belief systems, and the resilience of our nervous system. So, how does one find pleasure and purpose in life when chronic pain has shaped the way we experience the world inside and around us?
Chronic pain can cause the nervous system to become hypersensitive and stuck in a stress state. When this happens, the nervous system is easily triggered, feeling unsafe and at risk of a threat. After prolonged exposure to stress and the inability to down-regulate into the state of rest and digest, the nervous system can begin to make mistakes when judging a sensation as dangerous or neutral. Like Alan Gordon, the founder of the Pain Psychology Center, explains, "pain is a danger signal." Exposure to high amounts of stress, unresolved trauma, and constant triggers causes the brain to make mistakes and identify certain sensations as dangerous instead of neutral. This type of pain that becomes chronic is called neuroplastic pain. Neuroplastic pain is a "false alarm" which occurs when the nervous system is persistently triggered, dysregulated, and hypersensitive.
How does one develop overwhelm or trauma from chronic pain? Trauma is on the rise when fear and avoidance behaviors have become a means of surviving chronic symptoms. Fear of symptoms and one's ability to cope with these symptoms can cause the nervous system to be further confused and sensitive. With more fear, the nervous system continues to feel unsafe, triggers more pain, and can lead to the person feeling overwhelmed.
This may sound like a vicious cycle, but fortunately, there are simple techniques and steps one can take to break the pain-fear cycle and heal from trauma and overwhelm to reduce or solve mind-body symptoms.
How can I heal trauma and break the chronic pain cycle?
Trauma and overwhelm from chronic pain symptoms are common. According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, "Approximately 15% to 35% of patients with chronic pain also have PTSD. Only 2% of people who do not have chronic pain have PTSD. One study found that 51% of patients with chronic low back pain had PTSD symptoms."
The onset of mind-body symptoms like chronic pain syndrome, low back pain, pelvic pain, IBS, fibromyalgia, and so on are linked to unresolved trauma and stress. The Psychophysiologic Disorders Association provides that [mind-body disorders] are physical conditions and pain symptoms in the body that develop in response to stress, trauma, and other psychological factors.
We must first identify what traumas, life-changing events, and repressed emotions have led to chronic physical pain to break the chronic pain cycle. Once a person can find a level of understanding and acceptance of the past, they can begin to recognize the behavioral patterns and belief systems cultivated to cope with the experience of chronic pain.
Working to identify, address, and change your relationship with these triggers from fearful to empowered, will help you to break the vicious cycle of pain, fear, and trauma.
Tips for healing from chronic pain trauma:
Educate yourself about the brain's role in pain. Learn what unresolved trauma and behavioral patterns could be causing anxiety, physical pain, and other symptoms.
Identify your triggers. Triggers can be anything you identify as discomforting or cause fear-based thoughts. For example, emotions, thoughts, repressed emotions, childhood trauma, personality type, people, places, things, and movements are different types of triggers.
Come to an understanding. What is your belief about this trigger? What aspect of this stressor causes fear? Is this fear necessary? Is there a proactive way to challenge this belief system now? If not, who or what can help you deal with this trigger in a better way?
Change your relationship to this pain or stress trigger. What can you do to put yourself in a more empowering or proactive position to feel more equipped to deal with this trigger? What are the necessary steps to do this?
Help yourself. Don't just sit in the funk. You now understand chronic pain and overwhelming signs of a dysregulated nervous system. Begin to incorporate short and simple mind-body techniques to help soothe and self-regulate the nervous system. Methods include breath work, somatic tracking, movement, meditation, journaling, and more!