How Do You Reassure Your Brain That You Don't Need Pain to Protect You?
Of course in some cases pain is an indication of real danger, which is why it is important to first rule out any red flags. However, if tests show nothing major and pain persists longer than 3-6 months then there is usually an element of brain sensitization that is happening for our kids, meaning the brain is becoming more sensitive to anything it senses as danger.
If pain is the brain's opinion of how much danger you are in, then HOW do you change that opinion, you might ask? The way to change your brain's opinion of how much danger you are in is to reassure the brain that it is safe. Bright lights aren't dangerous, loud sounds aren't dangerous, changes in weather, shifts in hormones, annoying brothers, class assignments piling up...none of these things are really dangerous; however, the brain can start to see all of these things as danger and send pain to protect us. Like, actual pain. The same pain that anyone has when they hurt themselves. It's actual physical pain.
We need to start to reassure the brain that these things, while a little stressful sometimes, are safe. How? By using slow graded exposure therapy which really just means taking small steps to increase function and reassure the brain that it is okay. Maybe you start with the lights real dim and every week increase the brightness just a bit. Maybe you have the tv volume really low and increase the volume a little week by week. Or you can start off with just a 5 min drive around the neighborhood if driving in the car increases your pain (even 2 minutes if 5 is too much!). The brain may still send pain when the increase comes but it quickly learns that you are okay and the pain returns to baseline. Small steps are key because a big increase can seem like a real threat and will end up with a big pain flare. The way to get off the roller coaster of pain flares is by taking small consistent steps.
If our kids are in bed 24/7 then it seems like these changes will take forever. But just imagine what an effect one change a week for 52 weeks can have. Imagine how much more your child may be able to do by this time next year.
We need to be gentle and patient with these sensitive brains our kids have. Make a small change and then maintain it for several days, another small change and then sustain it for several days (even a week is best). Small steps over time can add up to big results.
If you feel like you have tried taking small steps with your child and it doesn't work, my guess is that the steps were too big for your child to be successful. I'm talking really small steps.
My job is to help kids take consistent, successful small steps to increase their function and reassure their brains that life is safe. I know it can be hard to make consistent progress on your own as every week new obstacles seem to pop up. I am here to help you. We can do this.
~ Carla Friesen
Licensed Psychotherapist; Pain Coach
The general contents of this website are provided solely for educational and informational purposes and are not meant to provide professional medical or psychiatric advice, counselling or therapeutic services.
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