Experiencing a flare up in lockdown?
Millions of people across the globe continue to struggle with chronic pain. With coronavirus now taking much of the world’s attention, we must also continue to support people who have other conditions. Here are some ideas on how to deal with a flare up.
A flare up is an increase in symptoms. Common reasons for a flare up include stress, anxiety, tiredness, an uptick in inflammation, being unwell and changes in movement habits (less or more). In essence, it is the body’s adaptation to how you are feeling and what you are doing. Whilst this is challenging and unpleasant, it is also an opportunity move onwards.
Pain and injury are not the same or well related
A common misunderstanding is that pain equates to injury or damage. This is something we have been conditioned to believe. However, we have known for many years that the relationship between pain and injury is poor. There are numerous cases of people believing that they have an injury and so suffer great pain until they discover that there is no injury. Then the pain quickly recedes. Others do not realise the extent of their injury or they need to escape a danger and hence feel no pain at that time. Examples of these include sporting and battlefield injuries.
Pain is much better related to perception of threat, both conscious and subconscious, via learning (past experiences) and expectations
The typical reasons for a flare up are mentioned above. However, sometimes there are no obvious causes. The symptoms just seem to increase. There will be a biological reason in the form of a perceived threat. We could call this the hidden states as we have no direct access to our biology. There is no read-out. All we have are our conscious perceptions. This is our reality, and it is real.
We try to make sense of the situation so that we can work out the cause. A story is chosen: it is because ‘I walked that extra mile’, ‘bent over’, ‘sat too long’ etc. Often a ‘physical’ reason is given. However, the reality is that we don’t really know. It is our best guess and easy to become caught up in the thinking about the pain, the worry, the rules you must obey to avoid pain and more. This uses a huge amount of energy and directs your focus away from what is really important. So, what is important?
Focus on what is really important
What are you working towards? Most people are working towards improving their life by being healthier and fitter. They want to reconnect with what really matters in their life. The flare up offers the opportunity to think about what is important, the destination, and the steps to take in that direction.
Here are some questions that help you to focus:
- what is really important to me in my life?
- what gives me positive energy?
- what brings me joy?
- what can I do right now to feel better?
- what am I working towards each day and what is my next best decision?
Apply the brakes
Often the flare up brings concern, worry and anxiety. These are all normal feelings driven by the way we think about a situation. This is our own unique take on what is happening based on our beliefs and prior experiences. Slowing the panic down is an important step that allows you to re-focus on what matters and the best course of action right now.
The simplest way to apply the brakes is to take 4-5 slower, deeper breaths. This creates a little space, calmness and clarity to make your next best choice.
Flare ups pass
All moments pass. Nothing stays the same. Impermanence is the way that life works, meaning that however you are feeling right now, it will pass. Trying to hold on, attachment, is one of the major causes of suffering. There is nothing to hold on to, but we keep trying. If you sit and try to observe your thoughts for just one minute, you will notice how things are continually changing. This is what makes life possible. This is what makes growth possible.
It is useful to remember a time when you experienced a flare up and when it passed by. What did you do that helped? How could you do this again? What else could help?
When the flare up passes, you may like to make some notes on what you did to help move forwards.
Flare ups for learning
People who shift their thinking on flare ups to be an opportunity to re-connect with what matters find that they pass through the moment more quickly and with less impact. This can take some practice as usually we have other beliefs. Many of these that we accumulate through social conditioning are limiting. When we work out which limit and which help, it makes an enormous difference.
** Please note that this does not replace any existing treatment or therapy. For specific advice you should always consult with your healthcare professional