One of the biggest challenges people with chronic pain face is feeling unsafe in the mind and body. Dealing with chronic pain makes the nervous system feel unsafe, hyper-vigilant, and sensitive to all environments, inside and out. Neuroscience research tells us that the source of chronic pain lies in the brain. And pain made from the brain is 100% true! The nervous system's job is to keep the mind and body safe. The pain system in the brain is linked to the emotions and memories we experience. When the brain becomes overwhelmed with mental and emotional pain, it can become hypersensitive to sensations and neutral signals, accidentally mistaking them for danger. Luckily, neuroscience studies, like the Boulder Back Pain study, prove that chronic pain can be learned and unlearned based on pain perception and behavioral patterns.
So how can one begin to reverse neuroplastic pain and finally feel relief from chronic symptoms? The critical ingredient to resolving pain is safety. First, the nervous system has to feel safe again. The brain has to learn that thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical sensations are safe again.
Read below to learn five easy tips to reclaim safety in the mind and body to begin reversing TMS and healing neuroplastic pain.
Tip 1: Learn your stress state
The nervous system's job is to keep you safe. However, when we develop a perception of pain or threats to our happiness and livelihood, the nervous system senses danger. In today's world, perceived threats to our existence have become apparent in the last few years. We've lived through a global pandemic, lost loved ones, became less social to reduce the risk of illness, seen hate crimes around the world, war, high unemployment rates, and this list goes on and on. These are all non-pain threats that trigger the nervous system to go into survival mode. These danger signals don't even include the average triggers many chronic pain Warriors face, like unresolved trauma, hidden stress, and repressed emotions. Anyone living today could have a nervous system going haywire if they didn't have the tools to identify their stress-relaxation responses.
The three stress relaxation states are 1) Social Engagement, 2) Fight or Flight, and 3) Freeze. When we are in the social engagement phase, we feel safe, curious, and open to socializing with others. In the fight or flight stage, we must find safety and become self-critical and irritable. Finally, we feel hopeless, confused, and disconnected in the freeze state.
In certain situations, these stress response states are healthy and help us to stay alive. However, when we become overwhelmed with threatening signals to our mental, emotional, and social well-being, the brain becomes confused and hypersensitive to harmless sensations.
To find a deeper understanding of your stress state, practice the following steps when you feel increased stress:
Identify your internal state (heart racing, warm face, tense muscles, butterflies in the stomach, etc.
Identify if you are in a safe environment or not.
Decide if your current stress response is helpful or hypersensitive.
Reclaim safety by changing your environment (if you are unsafe) or doing 30 seconds of breathwork to soothe your nervous system.
To get started, download our free workbook, 3 Steps to Breaking the Chronic Pain Cycle, to guide you in identifying triggers, soothing the nervous system and rewiring the brain!
Tip 2: Identify the trigger
It's easy to get caught up in a routine. Something could make you unhappy, like how a friend speaks to you or your current role at work, yet at a point, you accepted it as such, and it became a norm. However, subconsciously, whenever you are in an environment that makes you feel uncomfortable, reminds you of your past, or goes against your core values, and fails to make a change, this causes repressed emotions. It could also stir up unresolved trauma if your current situation relates to a traumatic incident from the past.
Take time to sit and reflect on your regular weekly routine. What habits, people, environment, roles, and activities in your life cause you to feel unhappy, disconnected, or unsafe in any way?
Tip 3: Challenge your fears
As Alan Gordon says in his book, "The Way Out," pain is just a danger signal. When I studied in the Pain Reprocessing Therapy Certification Program, I learned that " Pain= sensation + fear." What belief systems and perceptions cause you to experience fear? Do you worry about the future and how pain will affect your life? Do you experience negative thoughts and lowered self-esteem whenever your pain symptoms elevate or persist? Identify the lies and fears you constantly think about and devise a positive, empowering mantra to counter each of them.
Tip 4: Reintroduce feelings of safety
Now that you know what the nervous system response state is, your triggers, and how to identify fear-based behavioral patterns, it's time to reclaim safety. Mindfulness techniques are great, but they don't work unless you have meaning to them. The best practices I have used and taught my clients to adopt are breathwork and somatic tracking.
Breathwork is something you can do at any time and in any place. Breathwork helps regulate the nervous system and breaks the vicious cycle of negative thinking, fear, and pain.
Somatic tracking enables you to rewire the brain! By observing your body from a curious and easy mentality, you can explore sensations to reintroduce them to your brain as safe instead of scary. As Alan Gordon mentions in his book, practicing this at low pain levels can teach the brain to become less hypervigilant and sensitive to neutral sensations that have been perceived as dangerous.
Tip 5: Find meaning in life
Many TMS books tell you to immediately start exercising again to teach your brain that you are not broken and that your body is safe and robust. However, in pain coaching, I find it more essential to begin focusing on areas in your life that need improvement. Concentrating on exercise is great for your physical health; however, if your relationships, finances, and career have tarnished, it's pretty easy to continue feeling triggered in your daily life.
So here's what I suggest: now that you have the tools to soothe and reset the nervous system, focus on things that matter to you! Begin spending extra time and energy focusing on how to make your overall life better and more fulfilled!
If you have been consumed with chronic pain for so long and find it hard to imagine life without pain, chronic pain coaching can help you shift your focus and reclaim safety in the body. Working with a pain coach from Body Amor Wellness will help you to apply the mind-body approach in a more personal way that fits your life and your triggers. First, we teach you how to dissect your life and identify hidden triggers. We then guide you to becoming an expert somatic tracker and help you make SMART goals that lead you to reduce stress, anxiety, and hypervigilance to pain. Once clients focus on revamping the areas in their lives that matter most to them and changing behavioral patterns that hurt their overall well-being, their nervous system regains stability, and they become empowered to begin living life regardless of the pain. Once clients find meaning in life rather than focusing on pain symptoms, the brain becomes less hyper-vigilant, the neuropathways to pain and anxiety are weakened, and eventually, chronic pain reverses!
To start chronic pain coaching, click here to schedule your free 45-minute consultation with me, Amari Dior.