Living with chronic pain can be a challenging and frustrating experience. It can impact every aspect of your life, from your ability to work, your social relationships, and even your mental health. One of the most challenging aspects of living with pain is the fear that comes along with it.
When we experience pain, our natural instinct is to try to alleviate it. We go to the doctor, try to find a diagnosis, take pain medication, adjust our sleep routine, and try to find solutions to help manage our symptoms. However, when our fear of pain becomes a part of the problem, we can find ourselves in a cycle of pain and fear that can be difficult to break.
The Fear-Pain Connection
Fear is one thing that many people with chronic pain experience. You might fear that pain flaring up, or you might fear that you won’t be able to get through your day, and you might be terrified that the pain will never go away.
However, when we constantly fear our symptoms, how long they will last, and how they will impact our daily lives, it can exacerbate the problem.
Our brain is wired to search for threats and protect us. When we experience pain, our brain recognizes these experiences as threats and can trigger our fight-or-flight response. This response can increase our stress levels, exacerbate our symptoms, and make it more difficult to manage and reduce pain.
When your brain senses a threat, your body reacts by increasing your rate heart, your blood pressure and creating tension in your body. Because your body is in a state of tension and alarm, pain can become worse.
Fear also leads us to avoidance of activities that we think could bring on pain, which is like fuel for the pain to continue. It’s essential to reduce fear, in order to manage pain.
Breaking the Cycle
One of the key components of breaking the cycle of pain and fear is learning to see your pain as just a sensation and not dangerous.
This can involve learning new coping skills, such as mindfulness or chronic pain therapy, like Pain Reprocessing Therapy. One of the strategies used in Pain Reprocessing Therapy is called somatic tracking. This is a mindfulness tool that helps to notice the sensation of pain in the moment, without fear or judgment. Somatic tracking also helps to accept that the pain is there, for now, without feeling desperate to fix it or get rid of it.
It is also important to understand how your nervous system may be activated in your daily life. Are you always on alert? Are you bracing for pain and catastrophizing about what could happen? What other stressors in your life are occurring?
Strategies that can calm the nervous system, reduce fear, and generally help you to manage stress are essential. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for managing fear and pain. By learning to approach pain with curiosity and non-judgment, we can begin to shift our mindset and reduce the fear associated with it. Additionally, learning how to physically relax your body, even during stressful moments, can help with tension and chronic pain.
Pain and Your Brain
Pain Neuroscience has taught us that all pain is controlled by your brain. Pain is actually a complex warning system that is designed to protect you from danger. This system works well when you have an acute injury.
But chronic pain is a learned response, and the brain becomes more sensitive to pain signals. Our emotional reaction to the sensations of pain play a much larger role than you may realize.
The good news is that the more we learn about pain and the brain, the more we can discover what works to improve pain. Therapies like Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT) are evidence-based and research shows that they can be very effective. By working with a therapist, we can learn to identify and challenge negative thoughts that contribute to our fear and pain, and develop new coping skills to help us manage our symptoms.
Ultimately, the key to managing fear and pain is to take control of our symptoms and not let them control us. By acknowledging our fear and taking steps to manage it, we can begin to break the cycle of pain and fear and improve our overall well-being. If you’re living with chronic pain, there is hope. You can take control of your pain and start living life again. To learn more, feel free to contact our practice.