With fibromyalgia, as well as other chronic pain diseases, the brain is continuously firing pain signals. Our brain receptors are consistently attempting to keep up! Brain scans have revealed that those with fibromyalgia are not producing enough of the organic chemical, dopamine. This low-level restricts our ability to maintain a sense of well-being. Remember, the fight or flight model includes ‘freeze’.
Human beings, as well as most mammals, are virtually programmed to avoid pain. When we experience pain, physically or emotionally, we instantly react to the fight, flight, or freeze mentality. Pain, or the perceived threat of pain, requires action! This perception triggers us to respond. (Even unknowingly.) Put your hand too close to a hot burner on the stove, you react! You go on a hike, there is movement in the grass to your left, you freeze! These responses have been helpful from an evolutionary standpoint. These reactions can be beneficial when directed at an appropriate situation.
When chronic pain exists, the fight, flight, or freeze response also becomes chronic. This chronic response causes undue stress to your body, accompanying the ever-present hyper-awareness that this state brings with it. Worse still, these responses become programmed and automatic. This means that you can be stuck in this survival mode for days, weeks, months, or years at a time. (We commonly refer to this as a fibro flare.)
Our human bodies are just not designed to function chronically in this response mode. This causes our inability to function at certain times. Chronically ill pain patients are already in pain! We experience fatigue and emotional disturbances due to the sheer fact our brains are busy with this nervous system response that we find hard to control. Being a chronically ill individual causes a reaction response to a threat that is sometimes not there and possibly overreacts to painful situations. Think of this as an example, you have a sunburn, you are hurting, and you see someone reaching to touch your shoulder, you react! Now, the same scenario, but you don’t see the person, you only feel the touch … ouch, now how much are you going to react? The bigger the reaction, the more pain you create on your body that is already damaged by your illnesses.
The good news is … we can choose, at least some of the time, how to react if we are aware of our triggers and/or lack of triggers. We go back to living mindfully. We cut down our stress and practice meditation, preventative cognitive thinking, and/or other calming activities we have found work for us as individuals. What works for one may not work for another! So you must find what works to calm you, relax you, and try not to set yourself up for stressful events.
What do you do to calm down your stress responses?