Hypervigilance. A lot of people with chronic pain (and their caregivers) are hypervigilant. We are constantly scanning the environment for dangers that might set off our anxiety or a pain flare…bright lights, loud sounds, stressful situations, a poor night’s sleep, dehydration, uncomfortable seating, a change in weather….
When our kids are in pain we are always trying to manage their environment, trying to prevent flareups.
Should I let my child go for that sleepover? Should we decrease their school workload? Should we let them participate in that dance recital? Should we have that family over for dinner? Should we try to go for a family hike? Sit down for a family meal? Should I ask her to do chores?
We are often worried about the ramifications of letting our kids participate in life. Or how much to push them. And we keep trying to find the formula for how much energy our child can spend without passing their threshold and ending up in pain.
Hypervigilance keeps us in a fight or flight state ~ constantly alert. It wears our bodies out with exhaustion, anxiety, foggy head, poor concentration, sleep difficulties, increased muscle tension, poor digestion, and feeling nervous all the time. No wonder we are always feeling overwhelmed and exhausted! I am getting overwhelmed just writing about it! (I just had to do a minute of deep breathing and now I will carry on writing).
It can be hard to enjoy a good moment when things are going well because we are always worried about the next downward spiral. Our bodies can be so used to being on guard that they don’t know how to shut off when there is no potential danger present.
Staying alert for years takes a toll. It is exhausting when our nervous systems view the entire world as a potential threat.
So, we need to create spaces where we can take our armor off.
How do we do that?
We have a couple options:
1. Preventively 2. In the moment
If we are able to preventively practice ways to ease the nervous system then we will likely decrease the frequency and intensity of our hypervigilance. But it isn’t easy for us because a hypervigilant person doesn’t want to be still and meditate. Or do yoga for very long. Or breathe deeply. There are important things to worry about instead!!!
We might need to be very strict with ourselves in this area ~ giving ourselves dedicated time to ease the nervous system ~ because we are so tightly wound that it feels like a big fat chore. But if our nervous systems are a big part of the problem, then they are also a big part of the solution.
Just like we need to take small steps to help our children become functional, we can take small steps to start easing our nervous systems. The key (as always) is consistency. It is better to ease your nervous system for 1 minute every day than do it for 20 min once a week.
My favorite way to ease my nervous system is to close my eyes, and focus on my breathing for a minute or so. I picture myself sliding from my brain (where I have been running around), down through my throat and into my heart area. I actually picture sitting in tree branches, in my chest area. And when I am sitting down there, in the tree branches, I am further away from my thoughts (in my head) and can feel safe, protected, and at ease. I don’t need to worry about anything and can just be with my breathing.
Other ways that may work for you… - meditation - imagery (Greta prefers thinking about something than thinking about nothing when in pain) - yoga - taking a bath - walking in nature - tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) - stretching - anything that takes you out of your thoughts
Create spaces where you can take your armor off and ease your nervous system. It takes a small amount of time and effort yet the results can be life changing.
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