How To Empower Recovery When Fear Makes Pain A Conditioned Response
Well, first of all... when is pain NOT a conditioned response?
The simple answer to that question is: never. Pain is always a conditioned response, but of course it's way more complex than such a simple absolute statement like that.
For the purpose of today's post I will just say that when pain becomes chronic it's bound to be a conditioned response to something. This is a learned response in the brain also called predictive coding.
This pain response your protective systems are conditioned to could be some old learned attachment patterns, or trauma responses that are difficult to really put your finger on... but these time layered triggers are not really what this post is about.
So what about those very clear things: activities, places, people, seasons, foods, smells, or sounds you clearly know you have a conditioned response to?
Like sitting in a hard chair... or maybe even specifically your work chair? Or tight, restrictive clothing (oh my god, my sports bras!) or getting your heart rate up? Or talking to your ex when doing the child trade off? Or driving a certain road or route, or eating a certain food, or simply turning to the right versus the left... the list is endless of what we could have a conditioned pain response to.
This is how to empower recovery when fear of certain movements or activities makes pain a conditioned response.
Use Graded exposure. Simply start with what you know your baseline to be and slowly build up from there, including somatic tracking in the mix to practice safety reassurance while increasing your exposure to a trigger.
If you need guidance with somatic tracking follow the audio in my free vault of practices, which you can get access to below.
People often jump to thinking they're exposing their body to the trigger..... it's not about your body getting used to more and more, it's about your nervous system having the capacity for more... so take it slow... and act with kindness toward yourself.
And please always remember that if you're not sure what your baseline of exposure duration/pace/load is then start with graded motor imagery - visualize it. If you're not sure how, make sure you check out the visualizing ease in movement journal I have for you by signing up below.
In the case of restrictive clothing I'll use my own example. I have had to recondition myself to wearing sports bras. For me it was anxiety and not pain that was my conditioned response, but as you know these are two different symptoms but its the same protective mechanism creating the sensations of them both.
While I can definitely get away with not wearing a bra - when working out, going upside down and generally being bouncy - I do feel more comfortable being in public with one strapping me in!
So to decondition myself I started with visualizing getting dressed for the gym.... putting on the sports bra and all the other tight layers. And then I visualized taking some deep breaths and feeling my rib cage able to expand comfortably with deep breaths... and I visualized myself moving with ease, smiling and feeling excited to go to the gym.
Once I felt good doing that I exposed my nervous system to a little more... I actually put the bra on, took a few breaths, and took it off. For a few weeks I did this, and then put on super baggy clothes and went to the gym in that.
Then I stepped up again, I actually put a sports bra on to go for a walk around the block... and then I wore it for longer walks in my neighbourhood and then farther around the estuary by my home...
And then finally a few more weeks later I tried going to the gym with a tight sports bra on and, success! I didn't have a panic attack.
With every intentional exposure to wearing a sports bra I used somatic tracking to reassure myself of my safety, to find a little levity in how silly my brain can be when it gets overprotective, and to really accept a sensation of tight clothing around my ribs as an OK thing to be with.
You can do this with any of the triggers I mentioned, and any clear trigger I didn't mention.
If you're not sure how to let go of fear when dealing with a conditioned response, always start with visualization.
I have a visualization that can be a good starting point. You'll be visualizing a safe place to be with pain, and in that safe place you can bring your trigger into the mix.
Check out my free safe place for pain and somatic tracking audio, as well as the visualizing ease in movement journal
How do you feel about the idea of gradually exposing your nervous system to things you know are triggers for your pain? If you give visualization and graded exposure a try, please let me know how it goes!
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
JOIN MY FREE TRAINING FOR THOSE WHO ARE READY TO EMPOWER THEIR CHRONIC PAIN RECOVERY:
How To Use Safe & Effective Techniques To Be Your Own Chronic Pain Recovery Expert
Without Risky Procedures Or Giving Up Doing The Things That Bring You Joy
In it you'll learn:
This opts you into my email list, which I keep relevant AND helpful. Unsubscribe any time.