Got Pain? Heal Your Emotions – Part 3

[This is Part 3 in a series of articles about how to heal from chronic pain. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.] 

What do you notice in your body when you feel…

• Anxious?
• Angry?
• Happy?

Different emotions create different physical symptoms in your body. You know this intuitively and from your own experience. This demonstrates the fact that your mental/emotional state affects your body. [READ MORE about how physical pain and emotional pain are the SAME in your brain.]

Emotions are experienced in the brain

Neuroscience explains what is really happening. Your brain releases chemical proteins called neuropeptides with every emotional reaction. Dr. Candace Pert, an internationally recognized neuroscientist and pharmacologist, studied how each emotion has its own individual frequency and, simultaneously, releases a corresponding receptor active peptide.

That’s what is going on in your brain from a neuroscience perspective. What you notice is the result of those neuropeptides: you feel different sensations in your body depending on your emotional state.

Pain is experienced in the brain

We think of pain as the sensations we feel in the body. A sensation itself is pretty objective. You might have a hot or cold sensation, a burning sensation, an aching sensation, a muscle tension sensation etc. A sensation is a physical feeling you can describe.

So how is the brain involved?

Well, how does anesthesia work?

Anesthesia works by interrupting nerve signals in your brain. It prevents your brain from processing pain during surgical procedures. Your body feels no pain because your brain has been “manually shut off” by the anesthesia.

Without your brain, you don’t experience pain.

There is no denying that the brain plays a critical role in the body experiencing pain sensations.

Pain vs. Suffering

What is the difference? There is a big difference! Understanding this helps us understand how to reduce both pain and suffering.

Suffering is more subjective than just describing a physical sensation.

Suffering comes from your thoughts and your emotions ABOUT the sensations.

When you categorize or judge sensations, this is your brain adding interpretations ABOUT the sensations, such as thoughts about whether it is good or bad, and whether it is in or out of your control.

Chronic pain comes with a whole history of previous pain, negative experiences and problems. Memories of past pain and fear that it will never go away create very strong thoughts and emotions.

Despite the many difficulties of chronic pain and past memories of pain, your mind and your emotions cause additional suffering when you are spending time focusing on the negative and focusing on “problems” or “catastrophes.” 

It’s NOT all in your head

This does NOT mean pain “is all in your head!”

If you’ve had chronic pain, you have likely had someone suggest it was all in your head. Nonsense!

The term “psychosomatic” pain doesn’t mean that pain is “all in your head” and it doesn’t mean your pain is not real. It is very real. But it does mean that real physical symptoms can be the result of your brain and neurochemistry as well as your thoughts and emotions.

The Good News?

If your brain and emotions and neurochemistry can contribute to real physical pain, then you can also harness the power of your mind to relieve physical pain.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Pain

Research shows that when your attention is focused on pain, it is perceived as more intense. To reduce suffering, you can learn how to redirect the attention which your mind automatically has given to the pain.

You can also learn to change your thoughts and judgments about the pain (which add to suffering) such as:

• Good vs. bad
• Pleasurable vs. pain
• Wanted vs. unwanted
• In your control vs. out of your control
• Temporary vs. permanent
• Acceptance vs. resistance
• Positive vs. negative

Fears and anxiety and hopelessness about reducing pain are very common human responses. But they add more suffering. Anxiety, anger, fear and catastrophizing can be more detrimental than the pain itself.

Is it time to consider healing negative feelings, learning how to change negative thoughts, or perhaps dealing with unprocessed emotional trauma?

I’d be honored to help you on your healing journey. And holistic treatment for anxiety which includes cognitive behavioral therapy is highly effective!

 

Close Your Eyes

I challenge you to close your eyes for 1 minute. Set a timer and close your eyes.

Within a minute you are likely to take a deeper breath. Within a minute you are likely to loosen tension somewhere in your body. Closing your eyes reduces sensory input (which stimulates the nervous system) so for one minute your nervous system can relax. You can’t multi-task with eyes closed, which can actually feel freeing.

Give yourself permission for a one minute pause.

Got Pain? Heal your Emotions – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my series of articles exploring the connection between emotional healing and physical healing.

Check out Part 1 if you missed it.

My Story – Healing Pain/Frozen Shoulder

In 2014 had a life changing experience of healing my own physical pain.

I had been experiencing severe shoulder pain for months. Despite trying many different treatments and seeing many different doctors and healing practitioners, the pain was worse than ever in the weeks right before I was scheduled for a 10-day Vipassana meditation course.

Right before the course, my doctors diagnosed frozen shoulder and advised that I not attend the course because keeping my shoulder immobile while meditating would cause more pain and more problems.

I ignored that advice.

My pain sensations were excruciating for the first 4 days. Vipassana meditation teaches a specific technique that works with sensations in the body. I kept patient and persistent with the meditation technique.

By the 5th day, I was amazed to find my pain was no longer there.

Poof. Gone. No more shoulder pain. No more frozen shoulder. And it never came back. And no doctor could ever explain why.

The human mind is where anxiety starts, and where emotions start (the limbic system is the part of the brain regulating emotions), and where pain starts.

Quieting my mind and my emotions, released the pain from my body.

7 Types of Pain Often Linked to Emotions

• Headaches and migraines
• Neck and shoulder pain
• Back pain
• Stomach pain
• Menstrual pain
• Pain in the extremities
• Widespread pain including fibromyalgia

* Source: Kim Saeed, Author, Researcher, Educator

Thoughts ⇒ Emotions ⇒ Pain

Remember that neuroscience research shows that the same neural circuity is activated when you experience physical pain as when you experience emotional pain. 

Because the neural circuitry is shared, when either type of pain is experienced your brain has the same chemical response as well. This chemical response is primarily excess release of stress hormones (mainly excess cortisol and adrenaline known to cause inflammation as well as anxiety).

Dr. David Hanscom, MD and author of “Back in Control” believes the primary cause of chronic pain is Unconstructive Repetitive Thoughts (URTs).

He concludes that these Unconstructive Repetitive Thoughts cause the sustained release of those stress hormones which cause physical pain.

What You Can Do

Chronic pain is one of the most difficult things to deal with. It can make you feel very out of control.

One of the hardest parts about chronic pain is that often no one can find the specific source of the pain, or a concrete explanation. Friends, family and even doctors don’t believe you or tell you it’s all in your head.

So, what to do?

#1 – Learn about your emotions and emotional healing

In addition to seeking physical pain relief or treatment, this may be the time to explore how your emotions may be contributing to your physical pain.

Sometimes that means looking at your current emotional state and the emotionally challenging or stressful things in your life right now.

Sometimes it means looking at past emotional experiences that have not been dealt with (recent ones or even adverse childhood experiences).

Sometimes it means looking at unhappiness in current relationships – a big cause of emotional and physical pain.

#2 – Change your thinking with CBT

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented process focused on problem-solving. Through the process, you learn to understand and manage your thinking (cognitive), feelings (emotions), and actions (behavior).

CBT can help people feel more in control of their pain, and teach new coping skills. It can help you change the way you view your pain and help you function better, with pain interfering less with your quality of life.

Changes in your thoughts actually change the chemical response in your brain (cortisol, adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin) that can make pain worse. When you think better, you will feel better. 

In multiple ways, changing your thinking process can help you regain more control of your life despite the pain.

#3 – Learn Mindfulness

Mindfulness research shows that it can help you cope with pain by:

• Decreasing repetitive thinking and rumination about pain
• Decreasing emotional upset about the pain
• Increasing a sense of acceptance of the present moment
• Increasing the relaxation response and decreasing stress

Tapping to Release Unresolved Emotions

Tapping brow

Tapping chin

Tapping collar

 

Unresolved emotions can be contributors to both anxiety and chronic pain.

 

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or Tapping) can help you release unresolved emotions from your energy system.

Learn more about Tapping.

Got Pain? Heal your Emotions – Part 1

Neuroscience now proves what the Buddha taught 2500 years ago. We are WHOLE beings… mind, body and emotions are related and integrated.

This is my first of a series of articles exploring the connection between emotional healing and physical healing.

My meditation teacher S.N. Goenka said “Physical sensations are experienced in the body but the feeling comes from the mind…the deepest part of the mind, where unconscious patterns are causing automatic reactions.”

Sensations in the body do not exist separate from the mind. This means we can heal the body by 2 methods – through working on the physical body AND through working on healing the mind and emotions.

This just makes sense because we know that the brain runs the show. Your body doesn’t function without your brain. It’s all connected.

Pain and Your Brain: Neuroscience Research

Thanks to a quickly growing body of neuroscience research, we are learning more about the sources of chronic pain. We can see through functional MRI’s that physical and emotional pain both activate the same regions in the brain.

Here’s 4 critical things the research shows about physical pain and emotions:

#1. The same neural circuity is activated when you experience physical pain as when you experience emotional pain.

Examples: In a landmark fMRI study in 2003, similar areas of the brain were activated during a social rejection scenario (emotional pain) and during the application of a heat wand to the volunteer’s forearm (physical pain).

In another study, when subjects visualized a time of past relationship breakup (emotional pain), both the emotional and the physical pain centers lit up.

Bottom line: Physical pain and emotional pain are the SAME in your brain.

#2. Anger increases pain.  Many research papers have shown a relationship between anger and increased pain.

#3. Blame increases pain. Studies also show that people who blame their problems on other people or situations have more pain.

#4. Anxiety increases pain. The connection between physical pain and anxiety is a double whammy – it goes both ways!   Pain creates anxiety; anxiety increases pain.

Back Surgeon Eliminates Surgeries with Emotional Healing

One of my favorites books on this topic is “Back in Control” by Dr. David Hanscom, MD. He is a back surgeon who specializes on only on the worst, most chronic and complicated back problems.

He won’t even schedule back surgery for patients until they first do 8-12 weeks of emotional healing and calming of the nervous system.

His prerequisite 12-week program focuses on emotional healing to:

• Reduce anxiety
• Reduce negative thinking
• Reduce anger
• Give up “victim thinking”
• Increase proactive self-care
• Create a vision for recovery
• Create a vision for long term productive, happy living

After doing that emotional healing work, he finds that many patients actually cancel their back surgery because the pain goes away! He’s working his way out of a job and healing people without surgery.

More Connections

The Physical Therapy field is getting on board with the connection between emotions and pain. I was thrilled to learn recently that Marquette’s Physical Therapy graduate program now includes coursework about the role that neural circuitry plays in chronic pain.

So, the discipline of physical therapy (a very “physical” discipline) also understands that your thoughts and emotions are important contributors to chronic pain.

Much research also shows that Adverse Childhood Experiences affect your brain’s neural circuitry and are correlated with development of physical illnesses later in life. Mind and emotions affect body.

Check out my Mind Over Medicine article and be prepared to be astounded to see very concrete examples of how the mind alone creates real physical effects in the body.

The connection between emotional healing and physical healing is becoming clearer and clearer across disciplines (showing what Buddha knew all along).

In my next article, I’ll share my own profound experience of healing my body with my mind. I’ll also dig deeper into emotional aspects of pain and what you can do to heal.

DIY Moisturizers for Inflammation and Anxiety

Lots of research is showing the connection between increased inflammation levels in the body and increased anxiety. This makes reducing inflammation a great wellness strategy.

My colleague Trudy Scott is a nutritionist specializing in anxiety. Check out her blog for some great recipes using essential oils to create your own moisturizers for helping with inflammation and anxiety.

Click HERE to read more about recent research re: skin moisturizer reducing markers of inflammation, and also the role of inflammation on anxiety and other mental health conditions.

Click HERE for some DIY recipes with anxiety-reducing essential oils.

Visit a Forest

Numerous studies in Japan have tested participants’ responses to viewing scenery for 15 minutes in either a forest environment or an urban area.

Forest environments were perceived as significantly more comfortable and soothing, and had noticeable positive effects on people’s moods compared with urban environments.

Those viewing the forested areas, reported significant decrease in negative feelings such as “tension, anxiety, depression, dejection, anger, hostility, fatigue and confusion.”

* Read the whole article by my colleague Trudy Scott! 

My Favorite Products for Sleep and Anxiety

This is the first time ever I am revealing my own personal Top Favorite products. This is Part 2 focused on products for sleep.

Anxiety and sleep problems go hand-in-hand so sleep must often be addressed in order to manage anxiety.

In addition to many effective things you can to do improve sleep, here are some of my favorite products that can help you sleep better.

If you missed Part 1 on my favorite products for anxiety and happiness, check it out HERE. 

Fitbit Alta HR

I can pretty much guarantee you are not getting enough sleep and/or enough quality sleep. Fitbit Alta HR is the best way I know to really find out.

Not all Fitbits are created equal when it comes to usefulness for improving sleep via detailed sleep tracking data. Fitbit Alta HR gives you better data than other Fitbits about your sleep stages and sleep patterns.

This data will help guide your troubleshooting process. It helped me make several improvements in sleep that make a real difference in my life.

I love, love, love my Fitbit Alta HR.

CBD products

It’s the biggest craze of 2019.  And for good reason.  It’s great for sleep and many other things (especially anxiety).  CBD oil and capsules are great for insomnia and can help with getting to sleep faster and staying asleep longer.

My favorite CBD product specifically for sleep is the CbdMD brand and the name of the product is “CBD PM Oil” which combines CBD with melatonin, as well as Valerian root, Passionflower extract, Cascade Hops, Chamomile flower and Lemon Balm. 

Learn a lot more in my recent CBD article and find out why I’m fan.

Sleep Stories with Calm App

Sleep Stories are meant to take you back to a simpler mental state and let your brain relax and transition from a busy day into time for deep rest, just like bedtime stories did when you were young.

Stories are read in a very soothing tone and carefully designed to ease and lull the mind. The free version of the app has a few stories about things like lavender fields or magical waterfalls, and the full version has more stories.

 

Coffea Cruda

Homeopathy is a natural system of supplements that has been around for at least 100 years. Homeopathic remedies are inexpensive, small pellets dissolved under the tongue.

Coffea Cruda is a homeopathic derived from the coffee bean. It is very useful for the person who has mind racing that gets in the way of sleep. I leave mine right on my nightstand.

This product and recommendations for use can be found at most health food stores.

Badger Sleep Balm

At bedtime I use this soothing balm made of organic Bergamot, Lavender and other calming essential oils. It works topically and I also put it on my lips, nostrils and under my nose for aromatherapy.

Guided Mindful Belly Breathing Meditation 

This product showed up on my favorite list of products for anxiety too.

It seems a little weird to list my own product as a favorite, but this Mindful Belly Breathing Meditation.  It calms the nervous system so well that many people swear by the guided audio meditation for use before bedtime to fall asleep.

See a Functional Medicine Practitioner

If a doctor has ever told you that anxiety is “all in your head” or that “there’s nothing wrong with you,” it might be worth investigating a functional medicine approach.

Functional medicine is a different way of looking at wellness and health which focuses on resolving the root cause of imbalances rather than traditional medicine which focuses on disease and symptoms.

For example, a good functional medicine practitioner can help identify when there are physical conditions contributing to anxiety. This could include all sorts of things such as thyroid disorders, diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome, adrenal exhaustion, mitral valve prolapse, high blood pressure, Lyme disease, hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, hormonal imbalances and more!

P.S. I can highly recommend my own functional medicine nurse practitioner, Cherri Schleicher of C&S Holistic Family Health and Wellness.

Ironic Solutions You’ve Been Avoiding

In our “crazy busy” culture that keeps moving faster and faster each day, most of us want to:

o Get more done
o Be more productive
o Get rid of stress and anxiety
o Generally “toughen up” (to do more of all of the above)

We get in an endless loop of more To-Do’s and multi-tasking. It all seems to result in more stress, less sleep and less sense of accomplishment.

Is there anything that can be done to reduce all that stress and get off the hamster wheel?

Do the Opposite

It’s quite ironic that your solution is actually the opposite of what you think it should be. The ironic solutions are sometimes quite obvious. Other times we chalk up the ironic solutions as ridiculous and avoid trying them.

Problem: Want more productivity and want to accomplish more?
Ironic Solution: Learn how to develop a slow gear

Instead of constantly focusing on speeding up, doing more, and checking things off the list…slow down. Disengage from technology and to-do lists and future-oriented thinking for a little while each day.

You will become more present and focused when you return to the work at hand. Your mind needs time to process all the inputs (i.e. stress) of the day. With a quieter mind and a state of mindfulness, you will naturally become more productive. Ironically, it happens more easily when we slow down than when we frantically try harder to be more productive.

Problem: Want to get more done in a day? 
Ironic Solution: Sleep more

Not getting enough sleep can cause:

• irritability
• lack of mental clarity
• reduced executive functioning in the brain leading to:
        o poor decision-making
        o poor prioritization
        o poor analytical ability
• forgetfulness or memory loss
• brain fog
• reduced time management skill
• reduced productivity
• reduced focus
• depression (worsens all of the above symptoms)
• anxiety (worsens all of the above symptoms)

It’s easy to see how staying up later to get more done simply does not work in the long run. Ironically, doing that repeatedly will lead to getting much less done in a day (along with increased frustration).

Problem: Want to stop procrastinating on something? 
Ironic Solution: Stop avoiding it and go face it

This sounds so obvious that it can sound irritating. Here are examples of some very common situations that cause anxiety and are often avoided:

Di Philippi, MA, LPC, Holistic Anxiety Therapist, Milwaukee• driving, especially on the freeway or during rush hour
• public speaking
• social events where you might be judged or be put on the spot
• new situations (creating fear of the unknown)
• crowded situations where you might feel “trapped”

The more we find something uncomfortable, the more we avoid it. Yet avoidance is the worst strategy. The situation will continue to have power over you the more you avoid it.

The ironic solution in psychology terms is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) or Exposure therapy. ERP is a part of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). It provides a very safe and systematic way to face those things that feel like demons. With avoidance, the demons always live on.

Problem: Want to be stronger and tougher in times of stress?
Ironic Solution: Learn and practice self-compassion

Do the opposite of what your inner critic says. Stop being so hard on yourself and demanding that you just “buck up” and “get over” the difficult and stressful parts of life.

An article in the Washington Post titled “Be Kinder to Yourself” explores this concept of self-compassion. It talks about a 2017 study that found that people who have higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better. Other research confirms this.

So, ironically, being kinder and gentler to yourself actually does make you stronger in the face of stress. Self-compassion makes it easier to move through stress. Practice quieting your inner drill sergeant.