The further I have gone in my journey of discovery in neurobiology, the more interesting it has become.
It is important to understand that pain is only one protective output of the brain and nervous system that can become ‘stuck’.
Our beliefs, thoughts and expectations influence many other body systems altering responses either helpfully or unhelpfully depending on the situation. The following picture summarises what are probably only some of the responses we are aware of; it is likely that there are many others …
One of these body systems is particularly important, and how important it is, is not difficult to understand. I find it helpful to describe this in my discussions with people who are trying to re-train and re-adapt their pain processes.
This body system is the part of the nervous system that is known as the AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM. It has two parts – the SYMPATHETIC part (this is mentioned in the picture above on the right side) which essentially speeds things up, and the PARASYMPATHETIC part which essentially slows things down.
This is the part of our nervous system that controls all our internal organs. This includes all the major organs but also our blood vessels, sweat glands, eyes, hair follicles, bowel and bladder valves etc, etc.
I use a chart similar to this one in my clinic to help people picture it –
Many people have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is essentially what occurs when we are presented with a frightening survival situation eg: like when coming across a grizzly bear in the forest.
In a situation such as this it is easy to see how a sensory stimulus (seeing the bear) stimulates many physical responses. It is not difficult to see that this sort of sensory input results in many responses including:
- a more rapidly beating heart
- breathing faster
- sweating and feeling flushed
- hairs that ‘stand on end’
- a churning of the gut
- some of us even lose control of our bladders!
This is nature’s way of getting us ready to do what we need to do to give us a chance to survive.
Having chronic pain in an environment where one is confused and given a multitude of causes that convince us that we are damaged and that our damage is not adaptable but needs to be ‘fixed’ to feel better, is like having that grizzly with us all the time.
The ‘fight or flight’ response that is so important for survival results in physical responses that do NOT help us if they are there every day, every week, every month, for years and years and years …
Quite the contrary.
So, imagine the physical benefits if able to be convinced that there is no grizzly bear there any more.