Category Archives: Stress

12Nov/17
Overcome stress and pain to live well

The worried world and what we can do

Overcome stress and pain to live well

A recent article by Oliver Burkeman entitled ‘Anxiety bites. How to keep calm when world events are freaking you out’ highlighted the impact of Brexit and Trump upon people’s life perspectives. He states that levels of anxiety and being troubled have gone up, quoting the American Psychological Association as finding 57% of those surveyed to feel stressed by the political climate. There has also been a rise on the UK. We are, it seems, as a society, worrying about life and the future. Are we in a worried world?

We can argue that anxiety, like all perceptions, are inferred states as we try to make sense of the possible and most likely causes of the sensory information. After all, we are a bag of chemicals, and depending upon where they are and what they are doing, our brain has to make a best guess as to what they could mean based upon what we already know (priors). It is interesting that the ‘feeling’, the ‘what it is like’ of anxiety is similar to excitement. The key is the interpretation and what you tell yourself: I am excited or I am anxious. Try it.

Burkeman raises some good points. He mentions the contagion of anxiety as we are tacitly capable of sharing our emotions with others whereby both you and I feel anxious together despite being distinct organisms. Consider how quickly the atmosphere changes in an office or the mood of a football crowd. We are supposed to do something about the problems we perceive, but what should that action be? A feeling of outrage, powerlessness, isolation, and despair can prevail when we become over-focused on problems. This is some protective biology at play that results in us drifting into that state and maintaining it by continuing to attend to certain thought patterns. Burkeman also picks up on the notion of fear, with one of the therapists he interviewed mentioning the deep rooted and basic fear in life that stems from childhood. Without the safety of reliable parents, a child is destined to fend for herself, making the world appear to be a very dangerous place. Of course this can be hugely amplified if suffering or having suffered abuse when the protect systems are deeply provoked and remain active.

This is a serious issue. We have progressed remarkably as a species and the momentum is building, yet we appear to be falling behind when it comes to the so-called mental health. Regular readers and followers will know that I have an issue with this term, which I feel implies a dualist approach to the human experience. Experience is embodied (Varela et al. 2017). Everything we think and do is embodied, meaning that suffering depression and anxiety, the common and increasing problems previously identified, emerge in the bodily self. Where do you feel anxious? Most people will say in their stomach or chest.

Consistently being in a state of protect has health consequences as our resources divert towards defence rather than nourishment. This in turn raises the chance that the person will suffer a plethora of conditions, including those of an inflammatory and auto-immune nature. In my view a serious consideration for society (and policy makers), this is likely one of the reasons for the uptick in chronic pain, remembering that pain is also a mode of defence inferred from the existing circumstances.

what can we do?

This all seems a bit grim as we quickly forget the possibilities in life and the beauty that we are surrounded by in nature and human beings. So what can we do? Certainly knowing what we can control and focusing upon this rather than what we cannot control is a good start point together with a picture of what we actually want. This is the basic model of success. In terms of chronic pain, this is the first step we take when addressing the problem(s) before coming up with the principles to follow in order to achieve wins and overcome pain.

Here are a few simple tips, beginning with the creation of inner calm. Why is this so important? Because it gives us a perspective, making contact with our reality, allowing us to see things for what they are instead of being caught up in emotions that are the fabric of thoughts past and future. We learn to sense that inner calm, a feeling in the body akin to a deep peace and knowing. I would argue that this is a natural state, and one we can learn to access routinely each day, through the day, as well as when we need to be calm, clear and to see things as they really are. Biologically speaking, when we know and live this calmness, we are in parasympathetic mode, the branch of the autonomic nervous system that nourishes us.

Two simple ways to create inner calm: (1) take 3 breaths and slowly breathe out, paying attention to the breathe all the way in and all the way out. (2) take 10 breaths, following your breathing from the entry into your nose or mouth into your body and then letting go naturally, not trying to control or change your breathing at all. Note how you feel.

Further practices that can be integrated and implelemented into daily living include the practice of gratitude (Mccullough et al. 2002) and acts of generosity or kindness (Layous et al. 2014). Both are now known to be distinctly healthy and easily practiced each day, much like learning a musical instrument. We are not only considering the healthy effects, but also buffering against life’s challenges and the approach that the person takes to life–how do you do life? Possibility our problem?

Two easy ways to practice gratitude and generosity: (1) each day write down 5 things that you are grateful for in your life. (2) choosing to do something for someone else, including people you do not know, such as giving up your seat or letting someone go first. There are many opportunities through the day, however we must be aware and take note of how we feel, noticing the positive emotions as they arise. The more we notice, the more we notice, establishing the build and broaden effect (Kok et al. 2013).

Despite the world events and those closer to us in our days to day lives, it is our perception that is key–my own unique interpretation. As Shakespeare wrote: ‘there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’. These words highlight the importance of how you choose to approach life and the situations within your life. The practice of daily skills such as those outlined above are simple habits we can create to develop our thinking and our style of ‘doing’ life. Like other habits they become part of what we do with greater and greater ease, building our wellness that does not simple happen without effort and persistence.


The skills of being well are an intrical part of The Pain Coach Programme that is not only about overcoming pain, but living well, the best you can.

 

16Apr/15

Mindfulness is a great skill

Mindfulness is a great skill to learn at any age. To be mindful simply means to be aware of what is happening right now and without judgement–notice how you judge your thoughts and how that makes you feel.

Everything that we are aware of is our own, unique interpretation that emerges from our belief system. We appraise our thoughts, our actions, others, and the environment around us. This appraisal evokes an emotional and bodily response in many cases, even if it is just a shrug of the shoulders. It is important to clarify that emotions, body responses, thoughts and actions are all part of one and the same; i.e. the whole person. Sadly, much of the thinking, particularly in health, remains Cartesian and separates mind and body. This is despite reams of research papers and common sense telling us otherwise. What does your tummy do when you think about giving the presentation tomorrow? Your body reacts in response to the thought, and that reaction involves the nervous system, the motor system, the brain, the immune system etc etc….WHOLE PERSON.

So, if the appraisal or our perception guides how we respond, then we have a buffer between any give situation or thought and what happens next. We have a choice — ‘the greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another’ said the great philosopher William James. Shakespeare had insight: ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’.

Mindfulness is the skill that allows you to observe thoughts and interpretations rather than become embroiled, living out thinking that is felt in the body as emotions and tensions. You notice with quiet curiosity how your body is responding, lifting the veil of suffering.  We have that choice, but most don’t realise, operating on automatic overdrive leading to repeated stress physiology that affects every body system.

A stress response is designed to protect us from the dangers of wild animals. The same responses kick in to a threatening thought–the most dangerous things we face are our own thoughts and interpretations: a shadow after watching a horror film is threatening because of the way you think about it and create a story of a murderer lurking behind the tree. Actually, it’s a cat but that story does not feature. What stories do you tell yourself to create fear? How useful is fear? Not very.

Fear triggers further negative thinking, and that gets us nowhere. Respect and understanding create opportunities to learn and grow. Much better.

How are you mindful? If you look on the bookshelves, tome after tome sits there awaiting your mind. It seems that everyone has something to say on the matter. The reality is that mindful practice is simple. Practice is a habit that needs to be grooved. You must fail and fail and fail again. That is how we learn. And when you think you are good, fail again to get better. Learn to love failing because then you are getting better!

Start being mindful by noticing what is happening now. Where are you? What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Take a breath and observe it. The rise and fall of your chest and tummy. It’s a wonderful feeling to sit still. Especially in this crazy, high speed world with demands pouring in digitally and otherwise. Simply recall that whatever comes your way, it is your perception that counts. You are in charge of that perception. Make a choice. Create calm so that your body systems can do their job and slip out of protect mode and into health mode. On-going stress accounts for and contributes to most of the modern day ills–chronic pain, infertility, headaches, chronic inflammation, IBS etc etc. To think effectively about stress we need to look at it as a societal, cultural, physiological, personal phenomena.

So, I thought I would write a book about it as well. A very short one. Coming soon.

Mindfulness practice is part of the Pain Coach programme; a complete strategy to overcome chronic pain | t. 07518 445493

02Apr/15

My tips for healthy revision

Easter holidays are here! Bunnies, chocolate eggs, Easter bonnets, spring and…..revision. Chatting to my younger patients, they all tell me that this holiday will be dominated by revision. So it is not so much a holiday but instead, 2-3 weeks of homework. Perhaps Easter Sunday will be a day off.

This appears to be the way of school life in the modern world. The demands increase, the pressures increase, the stress and anxiety increase, and the pains increase. Is this right? 1:5 children reporting chronic pain. Chronic pain is the number one global health burden and depression is at number two — and frequently they come as a pair.

Body systems are on alert. They are working hard for survival instead of orchestrating the biology of health. In adults we used to call the effects ‘burn out’. These systems that protect us can only function at that level for a finite period of time.

Of course there is nothing wrong with hard, conscientious work. But, we need to regularly put the heavy bags down and take a break.

If you or your kids are entering the revision season, here are some handy tips for them to reduce the risk of ill-health, persisting stress responses, and flare-ups of existing aches and pains. We not only need to be physically fit, we also need to be emotionally fit. The two are not exclusive but instead come together to form the whole person. The whole person is not in isolation to their environment, beliefs or what has been before. Dwelling on negative events in the past and anticipating an unpleasant future both create suffering, until you realise that both are in our minds. The problem is that we play these out in our body, e.g. tension, pain, anxiety. It is not the situation that is important, but rather how we respond.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Shakespeare (Hamlet)

My Tips for Healthy Revision

  1. Make a timetable that incorporates your best time of day for learning, chunks of 40 minutes, exercise, movement.
  2. Motion is lotion: change your posture every 15-20 minutes; stand up and move around every 40 minutes
  3. Take 3 breaths every 20-30 minutes (when you breathe out, muscle tension naturally relaxes, which you will notice if you pay attention). The breaths can be slightly deeper than normal. Of course you can do this for longer and more often if you wish. Focusing on breathing anchors you to the present moment which means that you are putting down the heavy bags of ‘past’ and ‘future’. The bonus is clarity of thought and hence performance, memory and learning can improve as you become more efficient.
  4. Exercise before you start working; e.g. a walk, a jog. And a little more later as well; 20-30 minutes is good.
  5. Test yourself on the material you are learning — many people tell me that they copy their notes out again and again. You will have a nice pile of notes, but how much do you know?

** BONUS tip 1: set up the right environment — your desk space, the lighting, odours (don’t under-estimate the effects of smell; e.g./ use an infuser for a fresh ambience).

** BONUS tip 2: dress for work and sit for work — this will put you in the right mindset. We respond to our body language as much as our body language communicates how we are feeling. Keep moving (motion is lotion) but concentrate and engage more by sitting up.

** BONUS tip 3: make sure you have enough sleep — minimum 8 hours, and if you are tired, have a power nap between 1pm and 3pm for 20-30 minutes. You need to refresh and renew and you need sleep to learn.

Pain CoachFor more information about Pain Coach programmes and wellbeing programmes for health and performance, call us today 07518 445493

20Mar/15

Pain and trauma 

Pain and trauma — The smell of freshly mown grass would be enough to trigger feelings of panic and pain in Clive. He didn’t know that this normally innocuous odour was a cue for protection and re-ignition of memories of a car accident that occurred several years before. This is a classic example of the co-existence of pain and trauma.

Equally in others the cue could be a piece of music, a particular place, a person or a taste. We are multisensory and at the time of a trauma, the context creates a multisensory (molecular) memory that has high emotional valency due to the unpleasantness of the situation. At the time of an incident we may cope but afterwards there can be a trauma response that is when the coping fails and the person becomes ridden with anxiety. The physical dimension of anxiety commonly manifests as tension, discomfort, feelings of unease and pain that can gradually become increasingly widespread. Initially localised to where an injury may have been sustained, often it does not take long for the sensitivity to increase and the pain map widen.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a relatively well known term and describes how a person continues to experience  the trauma despite that fact that it has passed. They continue to replay the tape and suffer the consequences: pain, tension, anxiety. The simple fact is that when we think about something, if we are embroiled with that thought, we live it out through our entire self: that is the physical feeling, the emotions and the thoughts all emerging as the one experience. The different dimensions are not in isolation to each other but rather integrated into the reality of that moment.

The problem appears to lie with the attempts to numb and avoid the trauma whilst repeatedly re-experiencing the event. This struggle causes great suffering whilst the body pain continues and often amplifies, vigilance to bodily sensations increase and other symptoms can begin to emerge: digestive problems, abdominal pain, headaches, disrupted sleep and concentration.

In essence the body is in protect and survive mode. All resources are being diverted to survival and hence the motor system is on alert ready to fight an opponent/wild animal or to run away (muscle tension, overactive muscles), the immune system is primed for healing initially but then drops off, digestion falters and vigilance is high for threat. With continuous feelings of anxiety, it seems like all life presents to you is dangerous.

Pain associated with PTSD is a good example of the need to think about the whole person and all the inter-related dimensions of pain: physical, emotional and cognitive. It is always about the individual as much as the condition, and the environment in which they reside. For pain to get better, the person must get better.  There are a number of newer approaches based on top-down mechanisms (brain focused), however my belief is that we have an embodied mind. In other words, our (physical) bodies are as much the experience as the thought itself and therefore we must consider this in any treatment programme. Promising techniques may exist in reprogramming memories or learning how to re-interpret thoughts, but where do we feel the sensations? In the body.

Example programme

Foundation:

  • understand pain and symptoms—the biology of pain and stress, what influences pain and stress, what triggers pain and stress, how thoughts and feelings are part of the pain experience, other influences such as tiredness, the environment, beliefs, gender and prior experiences. Setting the scene with modern pain science reduces fear and anxiety as the patient starts to see all the opportunities for change.
  • re-training body sense and normal movement that is commonly affected in pain and PTSD.
  • learn skills to ease muscles tension and over-activity, how to switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic to create the conditions for change, easing out of survival and into well-being in both thought and action.
  • create the vision of where the patient wants to be and plan how that will happen
  • check patient’s language (verbal, body and the ‘internal voice’) and change if necessary

From the foundation the above skills are developed alongside motivation and resilience training, focused attention training for clarity of thought. The patient must be able to problem solve moment to moment and use their skills and techniques independently whilst being fully supported and progressed along, always Molina at moving forward. There may be a need to plan a return to work, return to sports or increasing other limited activities gradually.

Clearly any programme must be individualised and monitored closely alongside treatment given for the purposes of pain relief. I commonly use my hands to desensitise and reduce pain, often teaching the patient how to do this themselves or how to involve their partner.  The notion that hands on therapy does not have a role in dealing with pain is wrong in my view. We need touch for normal healthy development and it plays an important social role. Judicious use of touch therapies can help to develop trust between care giver and recipient and change the processing of signals from the body, also having a top-down effect when explained.

We are complex, pain is complex, pain relief is complex; however this creates many opportunities for change. And our role is to facilitate change, to focus on our own natural ability to create health and wellbeing. We must acknowledge and validate pain, teach patients about their pain but then we must focus on moving on, so the less attention on pain the better. Let’s think about what we can do — the CAN mentality and start changing the largest global health burden. Because we can.

Pain CoachContact us for details about the treatment, training and coaching programmes for pain sufferers and for clinicians wanting to become a Pain Coach (small group training and 1:1 mentoring): call 07518 445493

 

22Oct/14

Girls, stress and pain

I have seen a number of teenage girls over the past year who are affected by chronic pain. They are often referred because of recurring headaches or migraines but we discover that there is widespread sensitive at play. How does this happen? Why does it happen?

Headaches and migraines can be functional pains. When these pains are part of a picture of sensitivity, often accompanied by anxiety, there are often other problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic pain and jaw pain. Whilst these problems all appear to be different, they have a common biology. Typically I work with women aged between 30 and 55 who suffer these aches and pains, but increasingly this is an issue of the younger female. Having said that, when I explore the story of an adult, we often find reasons for sensitivity that begin in childhood. This priming sets the scene for later events.

As adults we face many challenges. We have body systems that are trigged by these challenges, especially if we think they are threatening to us. In particular the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is quite brilliant at preparing us to fight or run away, which is very useful…..if you are facing a wild animal. On a day to day basis, it is in fact useful for the ANS to kick in and create some feelings in the body that alert us to danger — the caveat being, nothing is dangerous until it is interpreted as so, and hence we need a construct of ‘danger’ and of the thing that is perceived to be dangerous. For example, a baby may not have the construct of a lion and hence sees this big, cuddly, moving….thingy…like my teddy (may not have a construct for any of these either!), and essentially detects no threat. As the baby detects no threat, he or she behaves in a way that may not threaten the lion and hence the lion may feel safe. Both feeling safe, they become friends. Perhaps — these things have happened apparently. Please do not try this at home, but hopefully you get the idea. Back to day to day….

In the modern world we often feel anxious. This is the body warning us that something is threatening. In many cases that I see, there is a strong reaction to banal events and non-threatening cues. Or if the cue is worthy of attention, the response is well out of proportion — e.g. utter panic and defensive thinking-behaviours. To what do we respond most frequently? Definitely not lions. Muggers? Gunmen? Earthquakes? Tidal waves? These are all inherently dangerous situations, that we simply do not often face. Sadly some people do have such encounters but the majority of us do not. The answer is our own thinking. The thoughts that are evoked — seemingly appearing form nowhere at times — are not the actual problem but instead the interpretation of the thought (metacognotion; our thinking about our thinking). The meaning that we give to a thought, often automatically, will determine the body response as our thoughts are embodied. And just to complicate things further in relation to thinking, there’s a world of difference between the experiencing-self and the memory-self. The former refers to what is happening right now, the latter to what we remember, or think we remember. In terms of pain, if our memory of a painful event concludes with a high level of pain, this will flavour the memory-self and we will report as such. The story, which is a snapshot within our lives, and how it turns out has a huge impact upon the subsequent memory of what happened.

The adult within an environment that becomes threatening, the workplace for example, can become very responsive to different cues that once were innocuous. Now they pose a potential danger and each time that happens and we respond with protective thinking and behaviours, the relationship becomes stronger — conditioning. There is no reason any this cannot be the same for younger people who are consistently within an environment and context that begins to pose a threat; a demanding school environment with high expectations plus the child’s own expectations and perfectionist traits. Place this context within a changing period of life and minimal time for rest and there is the risk of burn out or development of problems that involve many body systems. We cannot, no matter what age we are, continue to work at a level that is all about survival.

I focus on girls and women because females outnumber the males coming to the clinic. Many are perfectionist, many are hypermobile, many are anxious, many are in pain and many are suffering. This is a situation that needs addressing worldwide, and starts with understanding what is happening, why it is happens and how it happens. Over the past 10 years this understanding has evolved enormously, providing tangible ways forward. This does not mean that we need to change perfectionism, but rather recognise it and use it wisely; this does not mean that anxiety is abnormal, but rather recognise it as a normal emotion that motivates learning and action; this does not mean that feeling pain is a problem to fear, but rather know it can change when we take the right action; and it does not mean that we will not suffer, but rather accept that part of living involves suffering that we can overcome and move on.

We have created an incredible, fast moving world. The body does not work at such a pace. It needs time to refresh and renew so that we can think with clarity and perform to a high level, achieve and be successful. We are humans. We are a whole-person with no division between body and mind; instead one thinking, feeling, sensing, creating, moving and living entity responding to the experience of the now and to memory of what we think happened. Gaining control over this with understanding and awareness provides a route forward to wellbeing, no matter where the start point.

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If you are suffering with persisting pains — body pain, joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headache, migraine, pelvic pain, jaw pain + feeling anxious, unwell, tired — call now and start moving forward 07518 445493 | Clinics in Harley Street, Chelsea and New Malden

28Jul/14

Chronic pain developing at work

Chronic pain developing at work — Many chronic problems evolve slowly. The aches and pains become increasingly bothersome without any obvious injury as our biology gradually changes. Our bodies are surviving rather than flourishing, and this is because of both physical and mental strain. Recovery time is minimised as the protective systems remain ‘on’, disrupting our ability to think clearly, sleep, laugh, move, conceive and digest to name but a few.

Posture is frequently blamed for back and neck pain at work, but this is far too simple an explanation. It is not our position, but instead our position, how we are feeling and what we are thinking about that makes the sum of how the body responds. There is no ideal posture. It is about movement to ensure the delivery of blood and oxygen to all the body systems that is vital. When we do not move, the body starts to hurt as a reminder.

One of the biggest indicators of performance is happiness at work. It is not the fault of the chair if you are unhappy at work. Thinking more widely on this problem will help a vast number of people, not only to make them more comfortable in the workplace, but also to improve thought patterns for greater productivity and to cultivate positive feelings towards the job. Work has a significant bearing upon our health — in the right direction we flourish, but in the wrong direction we drown.

There are simple measures that can be taken to tackle these problems. Using and grooving healthy habits based upon movement and mindfulness can easily be employed to gain vast benefits. Both employees and employers stand to gain by preventing the development of persisting problems and tackling existing issues effectively.

If you are an employer seeking to improve the performance of your teams or someone wanting to tackle chronic pain, call us now for a chat to see how you can change and move forward: 07932 689081

Return to work programmes — if you have been injured or in pain and need to return to work, contact us to learn about our comprehensive return to work programmes.

08Apr/14

The habitat — multisensory memories

Running in the woods today I was taken back to school days when we would go down to the habitat to learn about nature. Our enthusiastic science teacher, whose laboratory experiments would invariably go wrong, led us down the hill, across the playing fields and into a small wooded area that surrounded a murky pond. This was safer than a bunsen burner, and I do not recall anyone ever falling into the water.

In the habitat we would collect data on flowers, plants and insects. In particular I recall that we should note down the irritability of insects, in other words, how reactive they were to a stimulus — the stimulus being a group of excited kids. Generally they flew away; the insects.

My point here is that whilst running I was taken back by the context of where I was, especially the smell of wild mustard. It was this olfactory experience that evoked a clear memory of the habitat, most likely helped by the fact that I was in a wood.

Recently I was talking to a patient about an experience that he had when visiting a hospital where he had been in ITU. On entering the building and walking the corridors, he was hit with a storm of emotions and memories that triggered a need to escape. He did not understand why this happened.

We are unaware of the vast majority of the things going on around us. Our brain filters and draws our attention to what is important right now. We can only focus on a limited amount of data otherwise it would be impossible to function. You may now be thinking about your right butt cheek, but probably not before I mentioned it. And whatever you do, do not think about a white elephant…

The brain stores memories that can be retrieved when it thinks that a reminder is useful. In the case of re-entering the hospital, although the feelings of panic are unpleasant, it is a useful set of responses to a threatening environment as this is where the brain recorded the events in the first instance. Knowing that this is a normal response allows for control to be re-gained. Not understanding often kick starts further thinking that evokes further protection via the autonomic nervous system — increased heart rate, dilated pupils, sweating etc. This demonstrates the importance of understanding our biology.

In chronic pain the same mechanisms are on alert. As we are multisensory, any of the senses can evoke a protective response. Sounds, smells, touch, taste and sights can all evoke emotional and physical responses. Think of that song, the one that perks you up or brings you down. It is a song, yet it is the meaning that you give to the song that determines how you respond.

Pain being an output from the individual, from the brain, in response to a perceived threat is no different. The more protective the systems, the wider the range of cues that can trigger a pain and stress response. This is equally true in anxiety. Our individual interpretation of a situation or a thought effects the response. We notice butterflies in the stomach (a change in blood flow through the gut) and know that we are anxious before realising what is making us feel anxious; or we have a thought and this leads to feelings of anxiety. It is bi-directional.

From a survival perspective, the brain registering information from all the senses during an experience is useful. Learning is vital. The next time we are in that situation, or one that is similar, the brain will use prior experience to work out if a threat exists, or a potential threat. On concluding that there is something dangerous going on, or about to happen, the brain will initiate protective responses that drive protective behaviours. Whilst this is entirely appropriate in acute pain, on going protection is a problem in chronic pain. Pain is always a normal response to what the brain thinks is going on, but in persisting pain it is often the underlying processes in the nervous and immune systems that are problematic and need targeting for effective treatment.

Memories play a fundamental in how we live and learn. We can actively search our archive but often reminders seemingly just pop into the mind’s eye. There will always be a reason why your brain thinks this is useful but that may not be immediately obvious.

RS

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics, London — for chronic pain and complex pain — 07932 689081

30Jan/14

5 reasons why mindfulness is part of our treatment programmes

1. Mindfulness reduces suffering: pain, anxiety, tension.

2. Mindfulness promotes clarity of thought.

3. Mindfulness develops a sense of calm.

4. Mindfulness creates an ability to focus ones attention where you want to, and not in response to the wandering mind.

5. Mindfulness changes physiology, triggering restorative processes: e.g./ healing, digestion, sleep, anti-inflammatory action.

For pain, stress, anxiety, performance, concentration, call us to make an appointment: 07932 689081

14Jan/14

Are you turned on?

At the risk of sounding ambiguous, many people are turned on. In particular, city dwellers and workers who are being hit with innumerable stimuli, bombarding the senses, triggering on-going responses by the brain, the mind and the body. Whether it be the noise of the traffic, the lights at night, the phantom vibrations of the phone, pollution or close-quarter travel on the train, outputs are being generated by the nervous system, the immune system and the endocrine system that are experienced as thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, some being pleasant, others not so.

Once a chronic state of arousal has been reached, the on-going energy demands can eventually result in burn-out or a gradual state of declining physical and mental health — the two being inextricably linked.

How does this manifest?

The all-too common conditions that we see include general body-wide muscular aches and pains, headaches and migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anxiety, indigestion, pelvic pain, fertility issues. The thread that ties these seemingly unrelated problems is stress. Stress however, is a physiological response to a situation that is perceived to be threatening. Two people can give entirely different meanings to a particular scenario, thereby having diverse experiences — it is all about an individual’s perception. Our perception is based upon beliefs about the world, sculpted over the years by exposure and influences.

The biological response to threat involves the autonomic nervous system and the motor system at least, preparing to either flee from the danger or confront the situation. An incredible set of responses, they evolved from the need to deal with wild animals. Fortunately this does not happen too often these days, but there are plenty of potential threats including the thoughts that pass through our mind. The brain does not differentiate between a thought and actually being present. The response is similar and usually thinking about something unpleasant that may happen will lead to feelings of anxiety — tingling in the tummy, tension, increased pain.

If these systems are persistently triggered by stress, there is less opportunity for smooth digestion, conception, healing and clarity. Being chronically turned on hence results in digestive issues, sensitivity of the bowel (bloating, pain etc), difficulty conceiving (thoughts of sex and conceiving are not going to be high on the brain’s agenda if there is a constant perception of danger) and pain that results from gradual changes in the tissues. In fact, every body system is impacted upon by the chemicals released during an on-going stress response. And not in a good way. Performance is affected, mood varies, sleep is disrupted, concentration is poor, catastrophising becomes rife and negative thinking about life predominates.

How do we turn off?

Relaxation or having the ability to switch off is often a skill that requires learning and practice. Going to the gym, having a cigarette or a coffee is not turning off. These are all stimulating a system that is already fraught. It is the calming, restorative, digestive and healing mechanisms that need to be fortified.

Promoting calm in a habitual way across the day is a potent way of re-programming the right responses for the right scenarios. Checking in on the body and thought processes, attending to the present moment rather than automatically drifting into the past or future, avoiding stimulation (e.g./ electronic screens, coffee, cigarettes, sugary foods and drink, certain reading material), mindful practice, breathing techniques and cultivating focused attention are all ways in which we can build our positive bank account in terms of energy and feeling good. Creating good habits. Exercise although stimulating, and certainly in a gym with bright lights and loud music, should form part of a routine for the overall healthy benefits. It is the best wonder drug that we know of and it is free.

Changing behaviours is difficult but it is achievable with the right programme that addresses both body and mind. Cultivating a routine around sleep, movement, diet, exercise, mindfulness, work and family will groove a healthy, resilient, positive and happy path forward. Turn off.

03Jan/14

Changing pain and suffering in 3 steps

Changing pain and suffering in 3 steps –> Logically, anecdotally and empirically, understanding one’s pain is a foundation from where action can be taken to initiate change. Conversely, lacking insight into the cause of pain and being unaware of the contributing factors creates anxiety that forms its own cycle of problems. This is certainly true when pain persists with no obvious structural or pathological reason — a common scenario.

The initial feeling of pain could be termed the primary sensation. The location, quality and intensity are noted, motivating responses: have a look, move, perhaps touch and seek advice. From the primary feeling comes an automatic thought that is deeply grounded in a belief system about pain, injury, life, health and the landscape of our world. This automatic thought triggers a range of emotional and physical responses that are experienced as secondary effects. The secondary effects of limitation, suffering, further pain and sensitisation — an often downward spiral accompanied by despair,  a perceived loss of control — accounting for much of the impact upon quality of life.

There is a fulcrum point between the primary and the secondary that is so potent; a fulcrum point being the place where leverage can be applied to affect a process. In physical therapy — for this is my background — this could be the careful and reasoned application of a hands-on technique to effect change in the way the brain processes sensory information from the body; the basis for relief as the brain alters it’s outputs and hence the sense of physical self. Similarly, to intervene at the point of feeling pain so as to minimise or even prevent the secondary effects that are driven by the automatic thought is a practice that can be cultivated.

  • Pain -> thought — meaning? -> increase in pain, tension, suffering
  • Pain -> thought — mindfulness -> reduced pain, tension, suffering

3 steps to easing pain & suffering 

There are several steps to developing the practice. Firstly, understanding your own pain is vital. What are the biological mechanisms and sources? And what can influence this biology? The latter includes stress, fatigue, movement, thinking, beliefs and the environment. A further point to consider is always that of perception. We all have our own unique perception that is created by our mind~brain, again based on our view of ourselves and the world, moulded by years of experience that blends with our genetics. No matter what the situation, our own reality is the one we respond to, and in the case of pain and sensitivity, the responses can increasingly be triggered by non-threatening situations and environments that are perceived now to be threatening.

The second step is to develop awareness of one’s own thinking and perception at the point that pain is noted. It is by becoming aware that we can then make the necessary change and apply leverage. To be aware means that you must be present as opposed to the autopilot mode where the mind drifts into the past, replaying tapes of previous events — that can equally trigger emotional and physical responses — ruminating on what has been, or fantasising or constructing a future. Neither fundamentally exist, yet we respond and behave as if this is the case; it is our reality for that moment. In doing so, the present moment is missed and we follow the mind and it’s wanderings. All minds do this, this is normal, but if the wanderings create suffering, angst and discomfort, it does not bode well for a happy existence.

The third step is to practice. Being aware is being mindful; the way in which pain and suffering can be eased. Creating a habit of regular practice is certainly achievable with a little motivation, guidance and support. Within a few weeks, people often report a significant difference in how they feel in terms of pain but also in their ability to deal with pain, their resilience. Mindfulness practice changes how the body physically feels and there is a fortified sense of facing life. The release of tension, the removal of the sandbags from the shoulders is welcome in all cases.

Specialist Pain Physio Clinics in London for chronic pain and injury — mindfulness is part of a comprehensive treatment and training programme to reduce pain and suffering, and guide individuals back to a fulfilling life — call us on 07932 689081