Pain recovery and how to manage hypervigilance
A mind-body approach to pain care empowers you to be in control of your journey. The path to recovery isn’t always straightforward. It takes a lot of commitment and dedication to learn new information about pain, incorporate it into your worldview, and re-examine your existing beliefs and approaches.
The more you know what to expect, the better prepared you will be for the journey ahead.
In this post, we will take a look at hypervigilance, how it might affect your recovery, and some strategies for managing it.
What is hypervigilance?
Hypervigilance is a state of constant high alert for any triggers that could activate a pain increase. Being on high alert is associated with fear and avoidance of meaningful activities.
How does hypervigilance manifest itself? How do I recognize it for what it is?
If you find yourself constantly worrying about what might trigger a pain increase and avoiding things in your life that you find meaningful, you’re identifying with aspects of hypervigilance.
The constant alert of hypervigilance keeps us in a fight-or-flight state throughout the day, and;
- makes it hard to enjoy the good moments
- teaches our body to stay on high alert at all times
- makes it difficult to “wind down” or “shut off”
- makes it harder to get restful sleep
- makes it harder to focus for long periods of time
- makes it difficult to find energy for daily tasks
The ongoing nature of hypervigilance feeds into a pain cycle that can be tough to get out of!
How does hypervigilance affect pain recovery?
It’s normal to feel hypervigilant if you’ve been living with pain for a while and have experienced sudden flare ups. A sudden spike in pain is distressing, uncomfortable, and can feel like a real setback, so it makes *perfect sense* to be extra mindful to avoid them.
Well, yes … kind of. You should absolutely avoid activities that are outside of your limits and comfort zone, but hypervigilance can make you fearful of activities you do all the time. When this happens, we start to skip and miss out on the most meaningful activities - playing with our kids, a weekly yoga class, or working in the garden on weekends.
Pleasurable and meaningful activities are important to help to balance the stressful nature of living with pain, and if we start to miss out on them, we lose valuable strategies for feeling like ourselves.
Hypervigilance is a normal response that can slow down your progress, but you can overcome it with consistent focus, support, and attention. You’ll benefit by feeling safer and more confident in your body, and you’ll be better able to shift into a calm, relaxed, and peaceful state without constantly being on high alert.
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Steps to help you overcome hypervigilance and support pain recovery
When you catch yourself being hypervigilant in the moment, consider it an opportunity to practice stillness. Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing for a minute or two. Send yourself messages of safety, protection, and calmness.
“My brain is keeping me on high alert, but I know I’m safe and this will pass.”
To consistently reduce hypervigilance, focus on what you can enjoy right now! Fun and enjoyable activities can counterbalance the fear, scanning, and high alert aspects of hypervigilance. The more grounded and safe you feel, the less you’ll need to scan for future threats and the more those fears and concerns will diminish.
Promote increased safety in your body with these exercises.
The Foundation: Sit or lie down and close your eyes. Focus specifically on the areas where your body is touching the chair, couch, or bed, and where you’re feeling the most support.
The Confident Body: Close your eyes, place your hands on your lap, and your feet securely on the floor. Focus on the support you feel through your hands and feet, and how grounded and secure you are. Feel confident in your body and how well it’s supporting you
The Calming Exhale: Sit or lie down and close your eyes. Focus on the movement of your chest and abdomen as you breathe. The longer your exhale, the more relaxation you’ll feel.
Pain recovery is a process that takes consistent effort, but most importantly, it is very possible. Aivo is an excellent partner for your daily pain recovery work.
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