Overcoming the Unannounced Visitor: My Journey to Healing
In January of 2023, my anxiety took a sharp turn for the worse. I had experienced anxiety before, but this time was different. Physical pain had taken hold, and it seemed like it wouldn't let go. The pain in my abdomen was persistent, and it was accompanied by bloating and a loss of appetite. I was no stranger to anxiety symptoms like panic attacks and heart palpitations, but this was something entirely new.
Despite multiple trips to the doctor and several tests, nothing physical was found to be wrong with me. The lack of a clear answer only heightened my health anxiety, and I found myself waking up with panic attacks in the middle of the night. It was a bleak time, and I felt like there was no end in sight.
One day, my cousin shared his story of chronic pain and how he had found relief through neuroplastic pain therapy. Intrigued, I began to research this approach and learned about central sensitization, a condition in the nervous system that can lead to chronic pain. I also discovered the limbic loop, a pattern in the brain that can cause nerves to send pain signals to a specific area even if there is no physical damage.
Neuroplastic pain refers to the changes that occur in the nervous system as a result of chronic pain. Central sensitization, a condition where the nervous system becomes hypersensitive to pain, is a common cause of chronic pain. The limbic loop is another factor that can contribute to chronic pain. This loop is a pattern in the brain where the brain sends pain signals to a specific area, even if there is no physical damage. Neuroplastic pain therapy aims to retrain the nervous system and brain to reduce chronic pain by using techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, graded motor imagery, and sensory motor training. By rewiring the brain's response to pain, neuroplastic pain therapy can offer relief to those suffering from chronic pain.
With this knowledge in hand, I decided to take action. I started an evidence sheet where I recorded any positive information I received about my health. This helped me to reaffirm that my symptoms were caused by anxiety, not a physical illness. I also learned to rename my pain as a sensation and observe it without judgment. This helped me to retrain my brain and nervous system to not send danger signals.
I discovered the importance of releasing "DOSE" hormones, such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins, which can reduce anxiety, while avoiding the "CAN" hormones, such as cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, which can increase anxiety. I began to do things that I loved despite the pain and started with small, light exercises and going for coffee with friends. I accepted setbacks as part of the process and kept reminding myself of my evidence sheet to stay on track.
Furthermore, I connected with others who had similar experiences. One friend struggled with chronic fatigue for three years, unable to stand or walk without assistance. After accepting that anxiety was the cause, he retrained his nervous system and regained his life. Stories like this were added to my evidence sheet, serving as proof that anxiety can cause physical pain.
Slowly but surely, I began to feel better. The pain became weaker and weaker, and I became stronger and stronger. I could drink coffee, sleep through the night, and even drive without feeling pain. I realized that healing is a journey, not a destination, and it takes time and effort to retrain your brain and nervous system. But with persistence and a positive mindset, it is possible to overcome anxiety's grip and reclaim your life.
5 THINGS I DID TO FIND MY WAY OUT OF THE PAIN
1. Retrained my autonomic nervous system: By understanding the pain signals being sent through my body and how my body was stuck in fight or flight mode, I was able to accept these signals as misplaced pain and understand that I wasn't in danger. One effective way to do this is through deep breathing exercises, which help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and promote a sense of relaxation. Another method is through progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and releasing different muscle groups to reduce tension and promote relaxation. Additionally, practicing mindfulness and meditation can help to calm the mind and reduce stress levels, which in turn can help to retrain the autonomic nervous system. By regularly practicing these techniques, it is possible to gradually retrain the autonomic nervous system and reduce symptoms of anxiety.
2. Repeated a mantra to myself: I constantly reminded myself that I was okay, healthy, and safe, and that my symptoms were just a result of anxiety.
3. Built an evidence sheet: Building an evidence sheet was a helpful strategy for reducing my anxiety because it provided me with a tangible reminder of my progress and helped me to stay focused on the positive aspects of my recovery. By including objective evidence such as medical test results, I was able to shift my attention away from my anxious thoughts and onto the factual reality of my physical health. Furthermore, the act of compiling this evidence also helped me to recognize the amount of effort and work I had put into my recovery, which in turn boosted my confidence and motivation to continue with my recovery journey.
4. Renamed the pain as a sensation: In order to manage my anxiety more effectively, I made a conscious decision to rename my pain as a sensation. By doing this, I was able to accept that the sensation was simply my nervous system responding to my anxiety, rather than a cause for alarm.
This shift in perspective allowed me to observe the sensation without judgment or fear, rather than getting caught up in the cycle of endlessly googling my symptoms. By approaching the sensation with a more objective mindset, I was able to better manage my anxiety and take steps towards recovery.
5. Accept anxiety was the cause of my pain. One of the most significant steps in my path to recovery from anxiety was acknowledging that my pain was indeed coming from anxiety. In fact, I was holding myself in this state by not accepting this. I realized that this constant search for something wrong with me was only fueling my anxiety and preventing me from focusing on effective coping strategies.
Once I stopped looking for external causes and instead accepted that my anxiety was a part of me, I was able to let go of the fear and worry that had been consuming me. This mental shift allowed me to direct my energy towards learning how to manage my symptoms and develop healthy habits that support my mental health.
As I worked towards retraining my autonomic nervous system, I incorporated several other practices into my healing journey.
Stay tuned for Part 3, where I'll share more about these actions and how they contributed to my overall recovery. It gets better. There is hope.
For more on this topic download or read The Way Out. A Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven Approach to Healing Chronic Pain by Alan Gordon.