Manage Stress, Mitigate Pain
- Written by Mary P. Shriver, CMT
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Chronic pain doesn’t just happen to the body. It effects our thoughts and our feelings.
When pain persists beyond the body's normal healing range, 12-20 weeks (let alone over 6 months or even 6 years) it can make us worried and upset. That worry and upset can make the pain feel worse. In fact, studies now show that unchecked thoughts and feelings can hijack the body/mind setting off a vicious cycle of chronic pain.
Unrelenting stress creates wear and tear in the body. By design, stress prevents us from relaxing. A relaxed body/mind lives in a state of repair and allows us to breath more deeply and fully. Not breathing deeply and fully means that the body isn’t pumping enough blood to its vital parts, causing constrictions in those parts. Sustained constrictions of those parts causes pain in those and other nearby parts, which sounds-off more stress alarms, and round and round we go.
The body is programmed to return to wellness.
One way to mitigate pain and return yourself to wellness is to learn how to regulate your stress response. To do this, we must learn to interrupt our outdated auto-pilot programs, tune in to the present moment and get an accurate read on present danger. By hitting the pause button, we can choose a more appropriate stress response - one which matches the actual level of threat in the environment. By practicing this process over and over again we can preserve the necessary energy needed return to a baseline of wellness. To stick with the software metaphor - we have to “install" new neural programs which expand our resilience - our capacity to cope with stressors, which can break the cycle of pain.
Manage inappropriate, persistent and unwanted stress responses.
Another way to say this is, we should spend no MORE energy than is absolutely necessary to get away from, or to fight, the threat and no LESS energy than what the situation actually demands. Both is costly to our nervous system and/or body/mind. Imagine expending the same amount of energy to pick up a coffee mug as you would use to lift a 6 foot couch. Now, imagine going into a rage over a glass of spilled milk. In both cases, we waste precious energy which could be used to repair our overtaxed systems. It’s like going into credit card debt instead of paying cash. Eventually, we must pay the piper.
Why then, do we use these seemingly high level strategies for everything we do, if it will cost us our health? Typically, it’s because we haven’t fully understood the process until now, plus our culture values the “go, go, go, push, push, push” mentality. Luckily, the “new pain science” helps us understand how we can be hijacked by our systems. Until now, we didn’t fully understand how important it is to our mental, emotional, physical, social and spiritual health to pause, assess and match. We call it “regulation”.
So how do we hit the pause button on our disproportionate stress responses to help mitigate pain?
If you suspect mis-matched stress responses might be contributing to your pain symptoms, it may be time to seek out the help of an expert. Whether its outdated programming from childhood, unresolved trauma or injuries lingering in the tissue, developing some sustainable embodiment practices can help you pay off your debt.