At Ease, Soldier
I did a post a while back in my Facebook group asking whether people thought their child with chronic pain might be considered a “highly sensitive” child. The answer was, for the most part, yes. Most of us did think our child would also be classified as a “highly sensitive person.”
Highly Sensitive people can be characterized as often living close to that fight or flight threshold. They have a nervous system that is regularly on high alert. They may feel emotion more deeply, get easily overwhelmed if the to-do list gets long or if the environment gets chaotic. It could be that having chronic pain makes us a highly sensitive person. But maybe we were highly sensitive people to begin with, which made us more susceptible to chronic pain. Maybe, rather than focusing on reducing pain, I need to focus on practices I can do to bolster my tolerance for stimuli.
As a mom with migraines, I know how my tolerance for stimulus goes way down when my pain is increased. Greta too. I can quietly assess her pain level by the volume on the tv, her tolerance for her brother tapping his pen on the dining room table, and whether she has turned the ceiling lights on in a room (instead of lamps).
Increased pain can amplify stimuli but increased stimuli can also amplify our pain. If I hear two people arguing in the park, I tense up. When Greta was watching a feel good movie this week, it was too stressful (because a lot of things went wrong before they went right). High energy people are hard for me to be around (although I admire them). Greta gets easily overwhelmed with school assignments regularly, and one 5 minute pep-talk/planning session usually has her back to feeling on top of things.
So what do we do about being highly sensitive? I think we probably need to do practices that ease the nervous system even more than the regular person. We might do better with less multi-tasking and more single-tasking. Give ourselves extra time to get ready and to drive somewhere so we aren’t worried about being late. Give ourselves time to respond to a problem, enough time to get our homework done….
We also may need a little more structure than the average person. When our brains don’t always need to guess what will be happening next, they can be more at ease. Nothing overstructured (because that would be overwhelming) but a small morning routine and evening routine (brushing teeth, taking meds, showering, deep breathing) and maybe some anchors throughout the day (a walk, regular homework time).
I think we also need frequent reminders that it is safe to be at ease. Our minds are so used to being on alert and scanning the environment for danger (i.e. a leaf blowing across the pavement, a dog barking in the distance, an upcoming quiz, not knowing what to eat for lunch)…. Sounds strange but these sensitive brains seem to be able to take any mundane thing and turn it into a threat!
Sometimes I picture soldiers standing “on guard” at the entrance to my mind (wherever that is). They are ready to protect me from all danger. Like, they don’t even stop to scratch an itch because they are always on guard and take it very seriously. I need to tell those guys, “at ease.” I need to give them a smoke break, some time off, a vacation for a few hours. And then tell myself that everything is safe right now, I don’t need any racing thoughts or increased pain to protect me. For now, everything is okay and you can rest.
What are some indicators that make you think you or your child may be a highly sensitive person?
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