Why is Chronic Pain so Tiring?

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?


36 thoughts on “Why is Chronic Pain so Tiring?

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  1. Fight or flight is definitely exhausting…. I have not heard of the freeze part..going to have to check that out. I don’t have any good ideas to calm down the stress part, since my “handling of life right now” is more in a state of numbness…sorry

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    1. Oh Grace! I know it is. If I’m not mistaken, that may be part of the freeze response. Hyper protection mode right now. I think if you felt anything other than exhausted and numb right now I’d be surprised. Just let yourself be and don’t ‘try’ to feel anyway that your not. Thinking of you. 💜💜💜

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The things I’ve found most helpful for calming down my stress response are deep breathing and using a positive affirmation “mantra” that I say out loud when I feel that ‘cortisol dump’ creeping up on me. They don’t always keep me from getting stressed, but they do help me calm down some once the stress response has started.

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    1. Having a mantra to calm yourself. I like that! Along with the breathing. I have to remember to breath! And I’m looking for a new mantra… a favorite something that I can revert to… I’ve ordered a few books and a new journal. Time for some self-care!

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  3. You did an excellent job at explaining how this circle of pain works! I have lived with this hyper response since I was very young. I never knew how to deal with it, so I took pills that masked the issues. No one had diagnosed me. I didn’t know any better until I worked with a psychologist. I am learning new things to keep in my toolbox, but it is very hard work; exhausting work. And it is not easy to be consistent. Understanding the physical response helps me to make these changes like learning to slow my breathing, listening to music or writing to release emotions when I feel it creeping up on me.

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  4. Pain has just become part of my every day life. I think the pain wants to be friends, but I really do not need a friend like that!! I do realize that stress increases my pain levels drastically and I am really bad at getting stress out of my life, but I am trying every day!!! Fantastic post as always!!!

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    1. Thank you, Alyssa! Pain is definitely a frequent guest. With realizing ‘Mr. Pain’ will stop by at will, HIS will, we learn to accommodate pain and reduce our stress… though we never make friends with this unwanted visitor. And as much as we try, the stress our body feels (because of Mr. Pain) will continue to carry a bit of chronic stress… this we learn to deal with but it is not for us to battle, perse, we have a war to win! ~Kim

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      1. Well said Kim! Mr. Pain is a very unwelcome guest and very uninvited into our lives. My word with friends like Mr. Pain, who needs enemies? Reducing stress will definitely help the pain issues, but stress seems to be a constant in life. I am doing my best to reduce stress, mostly by reducing the negativity in my life. We definitely have a war to win, but we are amazing and can do it!!!!

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  5. Awesome post Kim. After getting hurt at work over two years ago, my Fibro has been in a more or less constant state of flare or “freeze”. Some of this is due to the life changes that have come along with not being able to work anymore, multiple surgeries, moving out of my home and relationship issues fueled by financial stressors among other adjustments. So I am gaining a better understanding of that trauma in my life but still haven’t recovered enough to utilize some of my old tools that worked well before the Fibro Forrest Fire that has been my life these last two years. So one of the neatest things I created for myself was a cozy corner space in a front room that was just for my things. It contained things I loved to feel, touch, smell, hear, see, read, as well as do. It was made up of my favorite colors and textures and shapes, etc., – truly MY SANCTUARY. Where I went to when I needed absolute peace. This little corner of my house became on of my favorite places to spend time and just be in the world that is me. I haven’t been able or strong enough/well enough to recreate that yet for myself since I’ve moved, but I can tell you I miss it every day. I’ve found the MOST IMPORTANT KEY for me is that it brings me peace, a calming effect and that it incorporates everything I love on every level of my senses. I used to call it my cuddle corner. Hope I can get out of this freeze crap long enough to create that space for myself again. Really helped!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s amazzzing! I so hope you can recreate your cuddle corner soon! That is just such a positive thing to have. I’m sorry you are in the “Fibro Forrest Fire” right now. May you find a path out! Thank you for sharing a very important tool, Tamara. You are in my thoughts. xo


  6. With FM I could mostly control my pain with diet and movement and cutting out stress. With CFS there’s pain all day every day. I have found ways to make it better but not to eliminate it. Music is incredibly helpful, calming, and healthy for me. Controlling how and where I sit also helps. I spend my days sitting in bed with three pillows behind me, not one, not two, and not four. Three specific pillows. If I do it any other way I have neck pain that is so excruciating that I want to crawl out of my skin. Stress makes everything worse, it’s crazy how reactive my response system is now. I used to be one of the most patient people I knew, now…eeks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am finding the sitting thing to have become progressively worse. I can or cannot sit certain ways in certain chairs! I use 5 pillows, 4 bed pillows and one lumbar. I fight lower back pain always and recently started having new neck pain. I agree with stress! Control my surroundings. I need to read your info on your blog. I’ve been battling FMS and CFS for almost 21 years. I have never looked at them separately! Thank you. I have some homework to do! I’m so glad you commented! Please feel free to leave a link to your blog here. I’m popping over to your blog now.~Kim

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 21 years, that’s such a huge part of your life. 🙁 I really think researchers are getting closer and closer…what a blessing it would be to be free from any of the pain! 🤞🙏 Everyone experiences the illnesses differently but for me they were clearly two different things. I’ve had body pain since youth so it’s hard to say if that was juvenile arthritis (my dx) or FM, but CFS hit me hard overnight and never left.

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        1. So sorry, even as a child? I have the most respect for you. Mine came all at once, I was fine that morning and then I was ill that evening, pain, throwing up, everything so sore from the car accident… Fibro and chronic fatigue were my constant companions from that point out, in 1998. I believe they are ‘close’ to a cure… they now have the FM/a blood test. And doctors are starting to take things a bit more seriously. I don’t know if they will find the ‘correct’ cure for all of us in my lifetime but my goal is for the next generation. My great nieces and nephews I want safe!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Gosh so many of us have a history of car accidents. It makes me wonder if it’s something to do with that terrible jolt and damage of our central nervous system. I was hit by a car at three. Someday we’ll have answers to these questions. But yes pain in my youth brought on by the same things that brought/bring FM pain in adulthood. CFS pain though, no match to the FM pain. And yes hoping they figure it all out for those who come after us.🤞🌸

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Kim, nice to find your blog. I usually blog about my racing pigeons. Today I got around to starting a new blog portal and did one on Chronic Pain in its health section. I’m a qualified Veterinarian and have had CFS since 16 following very bad glandualr fever. So 41 years now. Kinda stuffs one’s life up to a certain extent however would say both the spiritual side and emotionally/mentally that I am a much better person for it! I have been off all pain meds for 5.5 years. I rest up a fair bit but I also make myself do stuff. We need to distract ourselves and create moments of joy and satisfation in our lives. Have a beautiful lifestyle block here in nz. Fergus.

    Liked by 1 person

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