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Fight or Flight (or Pain?)

Updated: Dec 6, 2021

Have you ever all of the sudden have a hot flash or wave of panic? Sudden, fleeting pain or lightheadedness? Sometimes people get nervous when things like this happen but they are actually getting a look into the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).

The ANS is a part of our nervous system that controls everything we don’t think about. Breathing, blood pressure, temperature regulation, digestion, etc. are all controlled unconsciously by the ANS. There are two main divisions of the ANS that are important to understand no matter what you are dealing with but especially if you are dealing with anxiety and pain.

The first division is the sympathetic nervous system. This is our fight or flight division. It is triggered when we are under threat and need to mobilize to either get away from danger or fight for our lives. When the sympathetic nervous system is dominant our blood goes to our muscles, our senses are heightened and we lose focus in long term thinking. We feel anxious and on high alert, our body tightens, our heart and respiratory rates increase, we may start sweating. Normally, when the threat is gone our ANS begins to normalize by way of activation of the second division, the parasympathetic nervous system.

The parasympathetic nervous system is the rest and digest division. When activated our blood flows to our digestive organs, our body relaxes and we can shift back to long term thinking. We feel relaxed, sleepy and engaged in our environment.

People who are in pain usually are in a sympathetic mode. They are at least slightly on edge and in protect mode. They have a hard time being still and silent. Their root of their pain is in discovering what keeps them from being calm and relaxed. The method to this discovery is meditation which gives us a direct line to the parasympathetic division and takes us out of our protective patterns.

When we can effectively calm our nervous system we are able to begin changing our patterns. Everyone’s patterns are as different as their experience. I help change these patterns through meditation and movement. Once we have meditated successfully our body and mind are relaxed and we can do slight movements to begin to teach our body to find a neutral, centered state. The hard part comes in when we try to make this new neutral, centered state our new normal. It takes frequent consistent input to make a change, this is called neuroplasticity. To make a neuroplastic change you need effort and attention. This means you have to make time for pattern change everyday and work on making the changes throughout the day. Sometimes this makes people want to give up...DON’T GIVE UP. Once you get your routine going, it’s just a matter of time before you notice your new pattern. Once you have a new pattern, it’s yours! Congratulations! Maybe you feel 100% better but maybe you don’t. If you don’t, you have changed only part of your protective pattern and now we will need to start the process again to change this underlying pattern. It can be a long process but it’s worth it when your life just keeps getting better.

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