The Chronic Pain Solution Podcast

Greg Wieting he/him

This is The Chronic Pain Solution Podcast. I'm Greg Wieting. For 20 years I’ve helped thousands of people just like you heal the trauma beneath their chronic pain, anxiety, depression and chronic illness. Your health is the effect. You are the cause. If you’re done with bandaid solutions you’re in the right place. This podcast is the roadmap you need to heal yourself. It’s time to commit to an arc of transformation so you can live with power, freedom and aliveness. FREE TRAINING: https://www.thechronicpainsolution.com/register-ss SOCIAL PROOF https://www.gregwieting.com/ read less
Health & FitnessHealth & Fitness

Episodes

#26 To Be Human Is To Have Needs
Apr 2 2024
#26 To Be Human Is To Have Needs
The death grip of control is often fueled by the fear of being separate and the fear that our needs will not be met.  Unmet needs in early development can literally signal the end of the world and be a matter of life or death.  This is far too much for the developing brain to make sense of. This overwhelm persists and lives inside of us manifesting as pain until we are able to reconcile the unfulfilled wish within our unmet needs. As we revisit unmet needs, we will make contact with, and begin to make sense of, what has historically been too much to handle.  In doing so we can build a relationship with the parts of ourselves that have felt split, separate, splintered, isolated, alone, unsupported and/or in hiding. This helps these aspects of self come back online and integrate into wholeness. And the more whole we become the less pain we carry To grieve the loss of what never was is to meet the parts of ourselves that were never met, that were never held, that were never supported, that were never attuned to.  This helps us to finally feel and process the emotional impact of not having these needs met.  Then we no longer need to carry the burden of this emotional impact in the form of chronic pain, anxiety, depression or chronic illness.  As we meet these parts of self, we build a relationship to ourselves, from ourselves. And this is where repair happens. The splinter heals. The divide mends. And we can synthesize and make sense of life experience that previously was beyond comprehension. And when we can make sense of our pain we shift our relationship to it.  This relationship we derive with ourselves then becomes the bedrock of the relationships we form with others. When we reconcile the unfulfilled wish, we are no longer beggars trying to drink from an empty well. We are no longer trying to get our unmet needs from early development fulfilled by others. This way we can show up in relationship established more deeply in our wholeness.  And this breaks cycles of codependence, helps us establish healthy boundaries and brings clarity in identifying what we feel and what we need in any given moment. It helps us accept that part of being human is to have needs and it frees us up to get our needs met with more and more skill and ease.
#25 Got Guilt & Fear?
Mar 26 2024
#25 Got Guilt & Fear?
Last week we talked about how feeling isolated, alienated and alone fuel pain. Guilt and fear are part of the equation of isolation.  We are likely to experience guilt when we feel separate. And when we feel separate we are likely to fear judgment from others.  Judgement means potential alienation. And alienation threatens our basic human need to belong which can trigger our fear of survival and become a breeding ground for pain.  Pain is pain is pain. Meaning emotional pain is mental pain is physical pain. One manifests as the other. And one feeds into the other. Guilt can lead to judgement and blame and shame and self criticism and negative self talk. All of which fan the flames of chronic pain, anxiety, depression and chronic illness. Being human is messy especially when living in survival mode.  What makes being human even more complicated is believing that we need to be perfect each step along the way. Because, after all, part of being human is making mistakes and learning and growing from them. Just think how toddlers learn to walk. They don’t get it right the first time around. If there ever was a thing called getting it right we only get it right by getting it wrong over and over and over again. But if we believe we need to be perfect then any mis-step or mistake can set off the fear of surivival and sound the alarm signals of pain.  And this holds us back from living life.  And creates the climate for the doom cycle of fear and pain to spiral, leaving us spinning out of control. People pleasing, over-achieving, lack of boundaries, putting our own needs on the back burner are all ways to manage guilt and fear and avoid pain.  But pain avoidance only makes pain worse. It leads to a death-grip of control which invariable cues more fear and more pain and more illness.  Because beneath the control is fear and guilt and feelings of being separate from the whole.  But when we can accept ourselves as we are, and experience ourselves as connected to the whole, we can stop prejudging our actions.  Then we need not be afraid of making mistakes nor worry about what other people will think.  Instead of trying to control, well, everything, we can just do what seems right moment to moment.  This means we don’t overthink our way through life. And with less overthinking comes less pain.  We are less stuck in the past and future and more resourced in the present.  And in the present is where true connection to ourselves and others and the universe is felt. Then empathy can guide us rather than guilt or fear.  Guilt and fear keep us stuck in our heads, feeling separate in intellectual analysis. Where empathy helps us live more from the heart where we can feel into ourselves and what is right. We can feel more like ourselves and create distance between us and our pain. As I shared in the last episode we can feel the one light shining through all eyes. This shen, or spirit, in Chinese medicine is a recognition of our brightness, our power and our aliveness.  And in feeling connected to the whole we feel connected to ourselves.  We can feel at home within ourelves and the world. This means less guilt, less fear and less pain.  Then the process of healing is one of discovering the truth of who we are. Because let's face it, when we are riven by fear or guilt or judgement or shame we are driven by our survival strategies. We begin to heal when we recognize we are not our survival strategies.  And this understanding allows our authentic nature to reveal itself beneath all of the costumes and masks we’ve accumulated in order to navigate the world and survive.  Moral of the story?  More authenticity equals less pain.  Less guarding and protection equals less pain. Less identifying with our survival strategies equals less pain. Less coping mechanisms equals less pain.  More self acceptance equals less pain.  Less hiding and less performing equals less pain.
#22 Feel To Heal
Mar 4 2024
#22 Feel To Heal
When it comes to chronic pain and chronic illness a common coping strategy is to numb out. This makes sense because a body in pain doesn’t feel like a safe place to inhabit.  In fact it can often feel like a very hostile environment. And this leaves many people living from the neck up. Sadly this makes things worse because it leads to thinking about pain more which actually makes pain worse. Remember fear and attention fuel pain.  And the worse the pain gets the more pain catastrophizing and worst case scenario thinking take over. And this creates a doom cycle of more fear and more pain. Interoception is the sense of the internal state of the body or the signals originating within the body. The term was coined by British neurophysiologist Charles Sherrington. It’s basically our ability to feel ourselves.  The more you suffer from chronic pain the more these signals can become disrupted or distorted. And this can make it very difficult to heal. While disassociation is a survival strategy trying to keep you safe, it also keeps you stuck in cycles of pain.  It hijacks the body’s innate ability to heal itself. And healing can’t happen when the body, brain and nervous system are stuck in survival mode.  Numbing out and being stuck in a freeze response is a survival response. Learning how to feel ourselves helps to thaw out the freeze response so we can shift from survival mode to healing mode.  Interoception is critical for our sense of embodiment, motivation, and well-being.  It’s the process of receiving, accessing and appraising internal bodily signals. It’s intimately connected to self-regulation to support mental, emotional and physical balance.  Interoception aligns behavior with higher-order intentions. And when this happens two complimentary senses emerge: #1: Presence. Presence is our connection to the present moment.  Living in survival mode hijacks our connection to the present moment and keeps us stuck in the past and future. #2 Agency. Agency is our ability to effect change. The more we can feel ourselves the more we can heal ourselves. So the path to healing chronic pain is one where we start to reclaim our ability to feel ourselves. Many of my clients feel like their body’s are war zones. And the last thing they want to do is feel themselves. I get this. Chronic pain becomes a combat zone of hypervigilance where the brain is always on the lookout for danger. So your homework this week is to train the brain to be on the lookout for positive sensations. Perhaps the warmth of the sun on your skin. Or the weight of a comfy blanket. Or the good feels of a happy memory. You can literally let your imagination run wild with this. Train your brain to pay attention to neutral or nice sensations. Focus on activities that you love. Connect with people you love. Focus on learning something new. This can all help you slowly start to feel yourself in safe ways. And the more you feel yourself safely, the more you can thaw out the freeze response keeping you stuck in fear and pain.  And overtime you can grow in more presence and agency which can empower you shift out of surival mode so you can heal yourself. It may take time and effort , but the more you practice, the easier it becomes. And eventually the pain will lose its power and you will reclaim control over your life.  So each time you notice yourself numbing out or shutting down or overthinking try and notice a positive sensation.  The more you can lean into positive sensation the more you can feel and heal yourself.  More presence and more agency equal less pain.
#21 Do No Harm
Feb 26 2024
#21 Do No Harm
In my adolescents and early 20’s my pain was unbearable. I literally felt like there was a monster living inside of me. And I did everything in my power to wrestle that monster to the ground. I tried to beat it down and make it submit. In all honesty I wanted it to die. The problem was this monster inside of me fought back with a vengeance. And my pain only grew in intensity. It felt like I was strangled by a vice grip with no way out. But everything changed when I discovered that this monster inside of me was actually a wounded part of myself. And this hurt, scared, alienated, confused part of me didn’t need to be approached with aggression or violence but with an open heart, a curious mind and receptive ears. I started to heal when I stopped trying to destroy this wounded part of me.  I started to heal when I learned how to listen, understand and love this wounded part of me.  Ahimsa teaches non-violence and non-harming and it can be a total game changer on your road to chronic pain recovery. Ahimsa can teach you how to shift your relationship to yourself and your pain. It teaches me gentleness towards my body. It teaches me gentleness towards my trauma responses. It teaches me gentleness towards my thoughts, emotions, memories, beliefs and behaviors. And the more I live in gentleness the more I’m able to disarm the fear that fuels pain. Chronic pain often leads to frustration, anger, and even hostility towards the body. So practicing ahimsa involves treating the body with kindness and compassion, acknowledging its inherent value and honoring its limitations.  By cultivating a gentle and loving attitude towards the body, we can reduce the emotional distress associated with pain and create a more supportive environment for healing. Ahimsa helps us cultivate a mindful awareness. It encourages us to meet reality as it is, without judgment or resistance.  In the context of chronic pain, this means bringing mindful awareness to the present moment experience of pain, without trying to change it or wishing it away.  By cultivating awareness and acceptance of pain, we can reduce the psychological suffering often associated with chronic pain and develop a greater sense of resilience. Chronic pain can trigger a natural impulse to resist or fight against it, which often exacerbates suffering.  Ahimsa teaches us to let go of the impulse to resist and instead surrender to the experience of pain with compassion and openness.  By embracing pain with non-resistance, we can reduce the tension and struggle associated with pain and create space for healing to unfold naturally. When suffering with chronic pain many experience self-blame, self-criticism, and feelings of inadequacy (all of which make pain worse). Ahimsa encourages us to cultivate self-compassion by treating ourselves with the same kindness and understanding we would offer to a loved one. This can help reduce the emotional burden of pain and foster a greater sense of well-being. Ahimsa teaches us to honor life. To meet what is, where it is, as it is and this includes our pain. When practiced moment to moment to moment this helps to turn off the alarm signals of fear that fuel pain. And overtime this creates the psychological safety that allows the brain to unlearn pain altogether.  So your homework this week is to notice when you approach or react to yourself or your pain from a place of force, effort, manipulation, control, judgement, criticsm or blame. Notice the subtle violence in this.  Then see if you can shift how you approach yourself and your pain from a place of lovingkindness and acceptance. Each time you forget is an opportunity to remember. So the goal is not to never forget. The goal is to keep on remembering. And the more you remember to acknowledge what is with compassion, the more you are on the road to recover from chronic pain.
#20 Don't Be Greedy
Feb 19 2024
#20 Don't Be Greedy
Aparigraha, a concept rooted in Indian philosophy, translates to non-greed, non-possessiveness, and non-attachment.  But what does this ancient principle have to teach us about healing from chronic pain? Let's break it down.  The word 'graha' implies taking, seizing, or grabbing, while 'pari' adds the connotation of 'on all sides.'  When we add the negation 'a' to the word, it becomes 'aparigraha,' meaning 'non-taking' or 'non-grasping.' Essentially, it encourages us to practice non-attachment. So, how does this apply to healing from chronic pain? Well often our attempt to get out of pain has us fixated on an outcome - to be pain free. This attachment to outcome can actually make pain worse because in our gripping to a pain free outcome we are rejecting and making the experience of pain bad or wrong. And what this does is activates the fear centers in the brain which then sound the alarm signals of pain and make pain worse. So the greediness of wanting to be pain free makes living free of pain that much more elusive. Aparigraha teaches us to let go of the attachment to living pain free. It teaches you to have outcome independence. Which I get, is very counterintuitive. We all want to live pain free but the path to pain free is to make peace with pain and to accept it as it is. Then we don’t need to fight against it. We can stop avoiding it. We can let go of the dread. And stop fearing it. Aparigraha teaches us to not grip or grab for a tomorrow that never comes. This helps us to be here and now and reconcile our relationship to what is - the good, bad and ugly, including our experience of pain. When we do this, we turn off the alarm signals in the brain that fuel pain and we somehow begin to experience less and less pain. Not because we are trying to get out of pain but because we are no longer trying to get out of pain. It's a mind fuck, I know. This is the paradox of healing. Love and accept pain and watch pain start to fall away.  But love and accept pain without clinging or holding onto it. Love and accept pain without identifying with it.  So allowing pain to be pain without preference. Without like or dislike. This means aparigraha helps us examine the thoughts, emotions and beliefs we have about pain. And to identify which thoughts, emotions and beliefs make pain worse and which ones help to make it better.  For example if you believe you are a chronic pain warrior consider how this belief might be creating more attachment and identity to pain making it more chronic. Aparigraha helps loosen the grip of pain, not by denying or suppressing it, but by recognizing that we are not our pain.  So your homework this week is to notice what I call the death grip - where you are either gripping to a pain free outcome or gripping to thoughts and emotions and beliefs that are fueling, maintaining and amplifying your pain. Then ask yourself if you can let go of the death grip. Can you let go of attachment to outcome and can you let go of attachment to what is.  The more you practice letting go of the death grip the more you can recover from pain. But remember this is a practice that you need to put into play over and over and over again. Keep letting go of the greediness of getting out of pain. Keep letting go of the thoughts, emotions and beliefs that keep you stuck in pain. Keep letting go of the attachments and identity you have to your pain. Bottom line? Less death grip, less pain.
#18 Faulty Limbs
Feb 5 2024
#18 Faulty Limbs
Going it alone and feeling separate and unsupported can prove to be deadly.  Numerous studies show that people who are - “self-absorbed, cynical, and hostile to the world – are more likely to die from a heart attack”.  Feeling like you don’t belong can literally put your life at risk. Feelings of isolation have more to do with cardiovascular illness than every so-called lifestyle risk factor. In this sense, heart disease can be seen as a disease of alienation.  An enormous body of research reveals that the root of stress and ultimately illness is a sense of isolation and a lack of support. When we pit ourselves against others, we negatively impact our health. Feelings of isolation hijack the nervous system leaving us stuck in cycles of stress and survival mode.  And cycles of stress and survival mode perpetuate the fear pain cycle that makes pain and illness chronic.  Yet the bonds we make with others generate our most authentic state of being and illustrate the most powerful need we have – the need to belong. And where there is belonging there is safety and where there is safety we can shift from a state of surival to a state of parasympathetic nervous system healing.  So today I’d like to invite you to take inventory of the places where you feel isolated, separate, alone or under supported in your life? Sometimes we are reaching for faulty limbs - or branches that don’t really have the capacity to support us the way we need to be supported.  Where do you feel misunderstood, or not seen or not heard? What does this feel like? Where do you feel it?  What stories do you tell yourself about feeling isolated and/or separate?  What beliefs are organized around feeling isolated? What behaviors are organized around feeling alone and unsupported? What does this cost you? How does it keep you stuck in survival mode and pain? Now I’d like you to take inventory of all the places where you do feel connected and supported in your life?  Where do you feel understood, seen and heard? What does this feel like? Where do you feel it?  What stories can you tell yourself about how you feel connected?  What beliefs are organized around feeling connected?  What behaviors are organized around feeling connected and supported? What are the payoffs of feeling connected and supported? What’s possible when you are connected and supported?  The path to healing is two fold. One.  Give the parts of you that feel isolated, alone and under supported radical love and acceptance. Nurture and support these parts of yourself. Be curious and compassionate towards the parts of you that have felt unseen and unheard. And two. Be on the lookout for where you are in fact supported. Pay attention to the ways in which you are in fact connected. Acknowledge the ways in which you are seen and understood. Then make the conscious choice to draw upon and lean on these supports. The more we can let go of faulty limbs the more we can reach out for and lean on the branches that can actually support us and make healing chronic pain and illness inevitable.
#15 Press Pause
Jan 15 2024
#15 Press Pause
I’d like to introduce you to the foundational mindfulness based practice that I teach my clients so they can begin to train the brain to unlearn pain.  It’s called the sacred pause.  And it helps you become aware of the thoughts and emotions that fuel pain. And it also helps you shift how you relate to pain itself.  The fact of the matter is pain perception influences how you experience pain. And the sacred pause can help you perceive pain differently. When you perceive pain differently you can experience less pain.   The sacred pause can help you track when you move out of the window of tolerance and enter either the zone of hyperarousal (fight/flight) or the zone of hypoarousal (freeze/appease).  The more we can notice when we flip the lid and default to the lower brain of survival the more we can regain access to the upper brain of logic and reason.  And the more we reside in the upper brain of logic and reason the more we can diffuse the stress response that takes us out of an optimal state of arousal and leads us down a rabbit hole of pain. Remember at this stage of the game awareness is everything.  Sometimes awareness is all that’s needed to pattern interrupt the fear pain loop. And the sacred pause will help you grow in awareness and pattern interrupt pain. As you grow in awareness you deepen into a relationship with yourself where you can live more at the cause of your life and less at the effect of your pain. The elegance of the sacred pause is its simplicity - 3 simple steps. Step #1 PAUSE Step #2 NOTICE Step #3 OPEN
#14 Check Your Head
Jan 3 2024
#14 Check Your Head
We all have an “upstairs brain” and a “downstairs brain.”  The downstairs brain, the oldest part of our brain, from a chronological and evolutionary perspective, is chief in command.  This means that the logic and reason of our upstairs brain actually holds very little control and power.  As adults we “normally” think with our “upstairs brain”. But when emotions build up and run high, or when we’re tired, hungry, or over the edge, the function flips, and our “downstairs brain” takes over our “upstairs brain”.  Our “downstairs brain” is always looking to meet some important need for survival purposes. When it flips, it’s an alarm system letting us know that we have a very important unmet need. And it’s urgent. The downstairs brain perceives this urgency as life or death keeping many of us stuck in survival mode.  Living in survival mode for prolonged periods is a recipe for chronic pain and chronic illness. And chronic pain and chronic illness often lead people into survival mode. It's kind of a chicken or egg scenario. For some people survival mode brings on chronic pain. For other people chronic pain brings on survival mode. When stuck in the survival mode of the downstairs brain we are living in the part of the brain that deals with all automatic bodily functions, habits and emotions. This means fear and rage - strong survival emotions - usually run the show and perpetuate more pain. The upstairs brain is the logical, reasoning brain. In human evolution, this is the newest part of our brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for logic, reasoning, and executive decision making. Recovering from chronic pain, anxiety, depression and chronic illness happens when we relaim access to the upstairs brain.  It requires that we take back our thoughts with disciplined, rational and accurate thinking. The kicker here is that more disciplined, rational and accurate thinking starts in the body. We need to feel safe inside the physical body to access the disciplined, rational and accurate thinking that fosters healing. When we develop enough safety in the physical body we reclaim access to the upper brain of logic and reason. This turns off the alarm signals in the brain that create, maintain and amplify pain.  So it goes something like this - safety in the body first, logic and reason in the upper brain second, and relief from pain third.  Messages of safety can be powerful in modulating the perception of chronic pain.  Try on some of these for size: I am safe in this moment. I trust my body's ability to heal. I am in control of my thoughts and emotions. I am surrounded by support. I am not alone. My body is strong and resilient. I can create a peaceful environment for myself. I am free to release tension and stress. Every breath I take fills me with calmness. I honor and respect my body. I am on a journey towards healing. Messages like these influence the brain's perception of pain and promote a greater sense of safety and well-being. This can help you shift from the lower brain of survival to the upper brain of logic and reason. And when you do you can start to shift out of pain. But remember, you’ve got to check your head to relieve the pain in your body.
#13 Stress Is Not The Enemy
Dec 18 2023
#13 Stress Is Not The Enemy
Architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller coined the term tensegrity (or tensional integrity) to describe a principle for designing light-weight integrated structures that use materials that are strong in both compression and tension.  This forms a strong structure that is flexible and adaptable by allowing tension to be communicated evenly throughout by a balanced combination of compressive and tensional elements. A tent, with its poles and sheets of fabric, form a real structure with real structural integrity.  Tensegrity represents the preferred structural system in biological nature as well. When looking at the physical body the bones act as the tent poles and the fascia, ligaments and tendons are the fabric or tensional elements.  Tensegrity helps us experience compressive and tensional elements of stress as positive and unifying forces. There is a healthy tension that holds us together and this is a good thing! It allows us to be supple, pliable, light and bouyent.  But it depends upon healthy associations with stress and tension.  The problem is, the fascia and connective tissue that hold us together, also happen to be where we store subconscious and unconscious emotions, thoughts, memories and beliefs from unresolved trauma.  We literally start to where the costuming of our psychological pain within the physical body. This then distorts the healthy compressive and tesnional elements that hold us together. Instead of being held together with healthy tension in a manner that supports resilience, flexibility and vitality we are then held together in survival mode and fear.  Living in chronic bracing makes us tense, hard and brittle.  And these maladaptations to stress trigger the alarm signals in the brain that create, maintain and amplify chronic pain and illness.  It may feel like we are falling apart, losing it or breaking altogether.  Fortunately, just as we have put on a costume of survival and fear we can also learn how to take it off.  We can teach the body to metabolize and process the subconscious and unconscious emotions, thoughts, memories and beliefs from unresolved trauma that are stored in the connective tissue and fascia.  This helps to turn off the alarm signals in the brain so we can unlearn pain altogether.  Then, instead of being held together in survival mode and fear we are held together in safety, trust and connection. When we are no longer wearing the costuming of fear or survival we reclaim a sense of wholeness and come to understand that we are not our pain. Instead of harboring the pain of the past we can learn to live in the fullness of the present. Instead of carrying the posture of victimization we can live in a posture of power, freedom and aliveness.  The function of healing is to transform our relationship to stress. The thing is stress is not the enemy here.  How we perceive and relate to stress is what either makes us or breaks us.  And the same holds true for our pain. How we perceie and relate to pain is what makes us or breaks us.  When we are living in survival mode we will eventually break as we are perceiveing everything (including our pain) as a threat and through the lens of fear. Yet when we are no longer living in survival mode the brain is no longer sounding the alarm that fuels pain. So less fear and less survival equates to less pain. This happens when we see stress as a positive force. Stress can help us grow in resilience. It can help us become more adaptable and flexible.  Stress can be a useful and healthy binding force of cohesion just like a suspension bridge.
#12 You Are Not Your Pain
Dec 11 2023
#12 You Are Not Your Pain
We never win with all or nothing, win or lose or black or white thinking. On the contrary being stuck in either/or thinking takes us out of our window of tolerance and pushes us into either high levels of arousal (fight flight) or low levels of arousal (freeze appease). And this is a direct path to chronic pain, chronic illness, anxiety and depression. The good news is we can learn how to live in an optimal state of arousal to support the body’s innate ability to heal itself.  Then we can recover from pain and illness naturally. Learning how to hold paradox is one of the practices my clients use to train the brain to unlearn pain.  Holding paradox takes us beyond our usual concepts of right and wrong, joy and suffering and pain and pleasure. This is where we can rest in an optimal zone of arousal where healing can happen on its own accord.  But it involves a reconciliation with, and a lively coexistence of the poles of opposites.  This means lovingly acknowledging what is - pain - while also becoming present to the parts of our lived expereince where no pain is present.  It means becoming large enough to contain and hold the opposite poles of experience.  Pain and no pain. The thing is, with chronic pain, it's all too easy to be consumed by thoughts of pain. And when we focus on pain, and pain alone, this feeds pain and makes it more chronic. Part of the mind training that is necessary to heal chronic pain is to bring attention to not just the parts of the body in pain but also to the parts of the body that are not in pain. And and both. Pain and no pain. But this takes consistent practice to strengthen the mind just as we would strengthen a muscle. It’s a commitment. If we are not training the brain the brain is training us.  And when the brain trains us its often a runaway train to more pain and illness. So think of practicing paradox as a pattern interrupt. The brain wants to focus on one pole or extreme - namely pain.  When we put paradox to practice we zoom out to become present to both poles. Instead of focusing on pain and pain alone we also become present to parts of our experience that are not painful.  We learn how to be present to more than one truth simultaneously. Pain and no pain.  And when we can be present to both pain and no pain at once it begins to short circuit the alarm signals in the brain that fuel pain.
#11 Got Tolerance?
Dec 4 2023
#11 Got Tolerance?
In order to heal chronic pain, chronic illness, anxiety and depression we need to braoden our window of tolerance. Window of Tolerance is a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegel used to understand and describe normal brain/body reactions, especially following adverse experiences.  We have an optimal arousal level when we are within the window of tolerance that allows for the ebb and flow or ups and downs of human emotion. We may experience hurt, anxiety, pain or anger that brings us close to the edges of the window of tolerance but generally we are able to utilize strategies to keep us within this window.  Similarly, we may feel too exhausted, sad, or shut down but we generally shift out of this.  The more can remain in our window of tolerance the more we can nurture optimal health outcomes.  When we experience adversity through trauma and unmet attachment needs and/or toxic stress this can disrupt our nervous system drastically.  Then our senses become heightened and our experiences and reactions are typically intensified and strategies are less readily accessible.  Adverse experiences shrink our window of tolerance which means we have less capacity to ebb and flow and are more likely to become overwhelmed more quickly.  Then we default to living in surival mode and living in survival mode is a direct path to a life of chronic pain, chronic illness, anxiety and depression.  When we are in our window of tolerance we are in an optimal arousal zone. This presents itself as having access to a generally relaxed and alert awareness where we can successfully manage life stressors.  When we have developed a broad window of tolerance we have fewer maladaptive behaviors and experience less excessive dysregulation.  In general we feel connected and flexible and are able to communicate even through times of conflict, challenge and stress.  In this optimal zone of arousal we are ready for learning and problem solving. This means even in times of trouble we can see the problem as a doorway to a solution. This is the essence of a growth mindset and a possibility consciousness. When we experience prolonged overwhelm, as is the case with chronic pain and chronic illness, we can leave our window of tolerance and move into the zones of hyper or hypoarousal.  Hyperarousal is a high level of arousal leaving us feeling overwhelmed, anxious. highly stressed and stuck in flight or flight. Heart rate increases to ready us to moveaway from or fight against danger whether real or perceived. This leads to faster breathing and increased blood pressure. Hypoarousal is a low level of arousal that can leave us feeling zoned out, spacey, or numb. This is the shut down response of freeze that leaves us immobilized when we are unable to fight or flight. Its a survival state of dissociation and collapse. When we live with chronic pain and chronic illness, anxiety and depression its an indication that we are living outside of our window of tolerance and stuck in fight, flight or freeze. The path to healing chronic pain, chronic illness, anxiety and depression is one where we learn how to broaden our window of tolerance and break free of living in survival mode.  The first step is to bring awareness to the experiences, circumstances, thoughts, emotions, beliefs, memories and behaviors that knock us out of our window of tolerance. When we are aware of these factors we can better equip ourselves with the tools and practices we need to support ourselves through overwhelm so we can better bring ourselves back to an optimal state of arousal.
#10 What's Driving You?
Nov 21 2023
#10 What's Driving You?
We are hardwired for survival. Whether a threat is real or only perceived the instinctive brain needs to figure out the best way to survive. We don’t think our way through this. The thinking brain shuts down so we can access a basic emergency response. These emergency responses include fight, flight, freeze or appease. Sadly, our nervous system can get stuck in any of these drives long after a threat is gone. These responses are triggered by a cascade of hormones in our brains when we are put in potentially dangerous situations or perceive danger.  This flash of hormones evolved from our earliest exposure as a species to predatory threats and enabled us to act immediately to save ourselves from harm.  But problems arise when the everyday stresses of modern life trigger those same hormonal cascades that are meant to prepare our bodies for life-and-death confrontations  If you feel anger or frustration when afraid, your likely response will be to fight. You never back down or surrender. You keep fighting until you die. Defensive. Argumentative. You need to be right.  If you feel terror or alarm when afraid, you’ll probably respond by flight. Avoidance. Isolation. Obsessive-compulsive behavior. Chronic busyness. Perfectionism. Judging and criticizing others. Being controlling. Addiction.  If you feel anxiety or desperation when afraid, you’ll likely freeze. Distrustful of others. Comfort in solitude. Physically or emotionally frozen. Dissociatated from reality. Indecisive. React on impulse. Hard to function. Just can’t deal.  And if you feel dismay or foreboding, you’ll try to appease. Head-off conflicts before they occur. Non-existent or poor boundaries. People pleasing.  So I’d like you to consider, how, when and where fight, flight, freeze and appease? At this point let this be nothing more than an exercise in awareness. As you take inventory of these nervous system drives do so with a nonjudgemental awareness. Often when these survival responses visit us, we get activated in a triggered response which can illicit judgement, shame, confusion and fear.  We can be completely caught off guard. And often judgement, shame, confusion and fear are embedded in the historic traumatic event or experience that is activated. We often are not so kind or welcoming when the old friend of our nervous system drive gets activated and visits us unexpectedly. Am I right? This only compounds the activation of the stress. It re-traumatizes.  So I’d like you to develop a friendship with these responses as a means to draw closer and get to know and intimately understand why these drives are getting activated. To understand what they fear. What they long for. What they hope to guard or protect.  In developing a friendship with these nervous system drives we can gather more data points each time the old friend visits. And as we connect the dots between these data points, we can derive more and more safety and return to a place of belonging at home within ourselves.  These nervous system drives are part of what make us human. We need not judge these responses. And we need not try to fix or change them. Rather the work is one of gathering awareness, insight and understanding as a means for healing and transformation to unfold according to its own wisdom.  And we will forget some of these data points and the old friend will visit us again and again to help us remember. And each time we forget is an opportunity to remember. We just integrate the lesson more deeply each and every time.  So, remember that healing is non-linear and question the status of arriving. This will help you be more present to yourself, your healing and your life. Making loving contact with yourself and these nervous system drives is a practice of present moment awareness. Meet and greet these parts of your human experience with arms wide open with tender love, adoration and care. And remember that curiosity and wonder break up the circuitry of pain.
#9 Got Safety?
Nov 17 2023
#9 Got Safety?
A body in pain is a body in fear. The greater and more prolonged the fear the more chronic the pain. This fear shows up as the sympathetic activation. You may find yourself fighting against your pain or running away from it. This fear also shows up as disassociation and shut down. You may find yourself numb or frozen because the pain is just too much to bear. Or you may find yourself bracing to guard and protect yourself from pain. So instead of chasing, treating or suppressing the physical symptoms of pain you need to address the fear that fuels it. In The Chronic Pain Solution I teach a 3 step system to heal chronic pain, anxiety, depression, chronic illness and trauma. And the first step is to disarm the fear that fuels and amplifies pain. And you do this by cultivating safety. A brain in fear has lost access to logic and reason and has defaulted to survival mode. 
And a brain in survival mode leads to a body in pain and illness. Cultivating safety helps to regulate the nervous system, calm the cardiovascular system, boost immune function and balance hormones all of which create the climate for your body to break free of the fear pain cycle. To shift from fight, flight, freeze to a state of parasymthpathic rest takes time and practice and it takes consistency and commitment. You can think of the nervous system like a sea plane landing on water. A nervous system in fight, flight or freeze will touch down on water but then bounces back up into the air. 

And this repeats itself many times over - again and again and again before the plane finally settles on the surface of the water in a state of rest. The more we train the brain and nervous system to rest the more we can unlearn pain. And it all starts with safety - helping the body, brain and nervous system become a safe place to inhabit. When this happens we need not fight against pain, run from it or brace and freeze up in its presence. We grow in our capacity to be witih pain which dissolves the fear producing pain. To feel safe we need to feel supported and connected. 

A big factor that feeds into chronic pain and chronic illness is a sense of alienation and isolation in suffering with an invisible illness. Most of the worlds spiritual traditions suggest that much of human suffering stems from a false belief in separation. When we feel separate we often feel unsafe and under supported in our human experience. The effects of feeling unsafe over a prolonged period of time can become corrosive, harmful and toxic physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Safety is a feeling within the body that allows us to open to life and feel at home within ourselves and the world. Yet when the brain has grown accustomed to alarm signals of pain safety becomes the exception, not the norm.

This means we need to consciously cultivate safety resources that can function like buoys in the ocean so the force and current of fight, flight, freeze don’t sweep us beneath the undertow and into more pain and illness. 

 When we learn to stay above water, overtime we can create a new baseline for nervous system regulation which helps dissolve pain. We build a safety resource by reflecting upon or remembering a lived experience or memory where we felt safe or as close to safe as possible - the more specific the snapshot in time the better. Once you pick a memory that you want to use as a safety resource use your 5 senses to relive this memory - see it, feel it, hear it and if possible smell it and taste it. But most importantly do your best to feel the memory.

What does it feel like to feel safe or embraced, or understood. 

 Circulate this feeling state through your awareness and your breath and see if you can feel it inside your body. This is the mind training required to heal pain. Because if you are not training the mind the mind is training you. This isn’t easy and won’t always feel possible. So you’ve got to remember rinse and repeat.
#8 A Bird Flies Into A Window
Nov 10 2023
#8 A Bird Flies Into A Window
Have you ever seen a bird fly into a window and drop to the ground? While sadly sometimes the impact of flying into the window cost the bird its life, more times than not the bird was just in shock and needed time to recover and regain its senses. The bird would go into a freeze response as the impact of flying into the window was too overwhelming for it to absorb. So it would shut down because the pain of the impact was just too much for it to handle. Yet after seconds or minutes the bird would start to twitch helping it shake off the impact.  And little by little it would begin to find the wind beneath its wings and take off in flight. The bird registers that it is no longer under threat and is able to get back to "life as normal".Many people living with chronic pain and chronic illness are stuck in a perpetual freeze response. They are going about "life as normal" yet parts of them are shut down and disassociated.  What happens is long after an injury heals the body never fully shook off the impact of that injury. This sets off alarm signals in the brain that keep pain alive.  So while the body is no longer under threat or in danger it still perceives danger and threat.  So pain can become chronic even when nothing is physically wrong with the body because the body is still bracing because it thinks it is still under threat from the injury that has long since healed. Or it is anticipating a future threat.  On the flip side pain can become chronic even when there has never been a physical injury.  The thing is the body doesn’t know the difference between psychological and physical pain. So alarm signals that produce physical pain and chronic illness can get triggered from mental and emotional pain as well as trauma that gets held and stored in the body. If the body has not learned how to shake off trauma like the bird it can lead to chronic patterns of bracing and holding. Trauma held in the body leads to chronic inflammation, stagnation of emotion, compromised immune function, hormonal imbalance and create the climate for chronic pain to set in. In Chinese Medicine health is seen as movement and expression of our life force energy or vital qi. Stagnation (as a result of trauma stored in the body) leads to pain, illness and disease. The freeze response can present itself as feeling checked out or running on autopilot or feeling robotic. It can present as feeling separate from the body or feeling out of body or like something feels missing or unclear altogether. Being stuck in freeze can lead to a distorted sense of time. Feeling blacked out or foggy may leave you having gaps in memories. The freeze response goes hand and hand with depression, low energy, repressed emotion and a general flat affect.  This can lead to no enthusiasm, lethargy, apathy and feeling withdrawn. The freeze response often lends itself to pain as the body adapts what is meant to be temporary survival response as a long term strategy. This is why so many people with chronic pain become less and less active. The freeze response is catching up with the body leading to immobility.  And the longer this survival strategy is in place the more chronic pain becomes. So instead of treating the symptoms of pain its best to learn how to thaw out the freeze of disassociation. But this takes time and patience. Just like you defrost meat slowly for safety reasons, we need to allow the freeze of trauma to thaw out gradually. Sadly this is why so many people remain stuck in pain. We live in a culture that feeds off of quick fixes. And when it comes to healing trauma that is just not how it works.  So many people don’t even bother or those who bother give up before their completely defrosted. But when you commit to fully defrosting the freeze response, just like a bird that flies into a window, you can find the wind beneath your wings.  So #1 get started and #2 don’t stop. Healing takes courage and commitment. It takes time to thaw out the freeze response.
#7 Rugged Individualism
Nov 2 2023
#7 Rugged Individualism
Human beings, like many mammals, are social creatures. And our evolutionary history has shaped us to thrive in communities and rely on social connections for survival and well-being.  This social nature has profound implications for our physical and mental health, including the healing process.  Positive social interactions trigger the release of hormones that reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being. In healing, a supportive social network can help alleviate stress, which is crucial for the recovery of the nervous system. Stress reduction supports the body's natural healing processes. Social connections provide emotional support, companionship, and a sense of belonging. When it comes to chronic pain, emotional well-being is intimately connected to physical health. And having a network of caring individuals significantly impacts one's ability to cope with challenges, reduce anxiety, and contribute to a positive outlook, all of which are necessary for healing. Mirror neurons in the brain allow humans to empathize and emotionally connect with others. Being around people who express positive emotions can trigger similar responses in our own brains, leading to a more positive emotional state. Emotional contagion, the phenomenon where one person's emotions and related behaviors can affect another person, plays a role in regulating emotional states through social interactions. The autonomic nervous system, which controls bodily functions like heart rate and digestion, can be influenced by social interactions. For instance, feeling safe and supported in social settings can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the body's rest and relaxation response. This helps in reducing stress and promoting overall well-being. Social interactions, learning from others, and engaging in stimulating conversations can promote brain plasticity which is the brain's ability to reorganize itself and form new neural connections. Positive social experiences can stimulate the release of neurotrophic factors, supporting the growth and maintenance of neurons to support new thoughts, emotions, beliefs and behaviors to support healing. Positive social relationships can motivate individuals to stay committed to the healing process. When someone is accountable to others, they may be more likely to follow through with what it takes to heal.  While the nervous system has its own inherent healing mechanisms, the presence of supportive, positive social relationships enhances these processes. Humans have evolved to depend on one another for physical and emotional well-being, and this interdependence continues to play a significant role in our healing and recovery processes today. Yet we live in a culture that feeds off of alientation, isolation and rugged individualism. Self-reliance and independence can hinder leaning on the social support necessary for healing chronic pain and chronic illness. Being hesitant to seek help or admit vulnerability or perceiving asking for help as a sign of weakness can all prevent healing. Social isolation and believing we should handle problems on our own can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, which can negatively impact mental and emotional well-being and perpetuate cycles of pain and illness.  Relying solely on individual strength might limit the coping strategies someone uses to manage chronic pain or illness.  Social support can provide diverse perspectives, strategies, and emotional outlets that an individual might not discover on their own. While self-reliance and independence are important traits, they need to be balanced with the recognition that seeking and accepting help from others is a sign of strength, not weakness.  Social support can provide emotional comfort, practical assistance, and a sense of belonging, all of which are crucial for individuals dealing with chronic pain and chronic illness.