More chronic pain b.s.

I think I’ve only made a few posts during the pandemic, and this is the second one about chronic pain. If you are not experiencing any ongoing physical symptoms, that’s awesome. If you are, I hope you find the following helpful.

I had back pain for a few years, then I solved it in 1 day. (You can read about it here.) My overnight healing made me cocky! I thought I would never deal with chronic pain again. 

What a laugh!

Now I have acid reflux. I was sure I’d get rid of it by eating a low-acid diet, in which I ate only foods with a pH value of 5 or higher, but nothing changed. I think it’s a great, anti-inflammation way to eat (it’s called “The Acid Watcher Diet” by Dr. Aviv), but after following it perfectly for a month, I had to concede that reflux is another in the long list of physical maladies said to be caused or exacerbated by stress. 

So, I started doing some ‘emotional clearing’—i.e., feeling my suppressed feelings. But even after dredging up every single thing that could possibly be bothering me, I kept having stressful thoughts about the future. Like, every day, for months, I was obsessively thinking about end-of-the-world scenarios due to climate change. 

As Julia Roberts said to the mean salesgirls in Pretty Women, “Big mistake. Big. Huge!”

If you research current thinking on chronic pain, or if you listen to some of the talks on the Curable app, everyone seems to be saying the same thing:

Chronic pain has an emotional component to it.

The emotional component is either suppressed emotions (such as unprocessed anger, sadness or fear) or negative thought patterns such as “catastrophizing” and ruminating.

Chronic pain occurs when the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight-or-flight-or-freeze” stress response has been triggered too often, for too long. 

Most people who have chronic pain become more and more fearful of the symptoms they’re experiencing, as well as more hopeless about ever having relief from them. Which makes things worse. “The brain begins to think activities that used to feel safe are now very threatening,” said one site.

The solution to chronic pain is to stop triggering your sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight-or-freeze stress response. 

To do this, you must relax.

Relaxing your body–consciously releasing tension held in your stomach, your shoulders, your neck, your face, etc.–stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system response. Which is the key to healing.

Other ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system:

Slow down your breathing and inhale deeply. Your stomach or waist should actually expand and contract.

Soothe yourself by telling yourself you are safe and okay. This may sound pathetic. But truly it is very helpful. Literally ask yourself, “Am I safe?” Most of the time, the answer is yes. Reassure yourself that that is the case.

Let pain symptoms come up. Don’t fear them. Don’t try to suppress them. Don’t try to solve them. Just let them arise. Acknowledge them, and let them be. 

If you keep activating the parasympathetic nervous system, you retrain the brain to believe you are safe. And it will start to activate the parasympathetic nervous response again on its own. And you will heal. 

Probably lots of people heal from chronic pain without consciously doing anything to address it. Maybe they just naturally start having more positive thoughts, or at least stop having super stressful thoughts. And they either forget about or ignore pain symptoms they’re experiencing. Then one day, they realize the chronic pain is gone and they are healed. 

Ever since I have been consciously catching myself engaging in negative thought patterns (worrying, ruminating and catastrophizing), and consciously activating the parasympathetic response (which I’ve been doing for about 2 weeks now), I’ve seen a major reduction of symptoms. So, I’m hopeful.

There’s a short video that my friend Juli sent me, from a physical therapist in San Diego named Jim Prussack, that has made all the difference to me. It’s what I have listened to repeatedly, to remind myself of the only thing I need to do: RELAX.

Prussack has several great videos (all of which center around the same message, which is reassuring—I don’t want to have lots of goals, I like having just the one: Relax!). And his voice is calming, which is key when you are experiencing symptoms and trying not to stress about it. He also works one-on-one with clients if you think you need it.

If you have experience with chronic pain or have any insights about healing from it, please let me know. I’d love to hear your story or thoughts. 

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xo, Courtney