Our bodies work by a series of inputs that go into the brain that can influence a resulting output. Various inputs can influence our brain's perception of threats, resulting in pain as the output. As a clinician, I cannot change the outputs of the brain, but we can change the inputs to change behaviors that can alter possible outputs.
Today I want to dive a little deeper on how our perceptions and past experiences posture our bodies without us even knowing it.
Our bodies nervous system is a complex and intricate system that helps to regulate all of our internal mechanisms as well attenuating and interacting external threats or inputs.
(The normal up and down of the nervous system)
Due to the high amounts of information and inputs bombarding are systems daily, we may never fully come back down, chronically starting us at a higher set point. (see below)
(This is our nervous system when it is dysregulated)
Being stuck in these states means when an oncoming stressor comes in, we may overreact to its input and overreach to combat it, setting us off for larger spikes in nervous system activity. This becomes a learned behavior, where past experiences are taken into account to create expectations of what a particular output should be. When these inputs are perceived to be outside or expectations, dysregulation of our nervous system ensues and we start to run in fight mode to alleviate the stress.
If you met a dog for the first time and it bit you hard as you tried to pet it, my guess would be that it really hurt. Well, your brain is going to remember that as a threat and associate it with danger the next time you see a dog. You may get guarded when one walks down the street, you get tense, stiff, and rigid, ready to run away, even though it isn’t harming you. That’s the SNS at work to protect you and gear you up to alleviate that stress.
Same thing would happen if 10 years later, you decided to pet a puppy, and they nib at your hand because of teething. Your alarm system may set off causing a painful output even though it was not nearly as hard as the first time you were bit many years ago. This is how past experiences and expectations create a perceived outcome. Most likely, without you realizing it, your body was tensed up before you pet that puppy in anticipation for danger. These small traumas, even if you consciously forget about them, exist in the subconscious.
(I swear my puppy wouldn’t hurt you)
Ever wonder how some people can walk on hot coals but you think touching the sand on the beach in the summer is like lava?
They have a connected an awareness with their body and mind to match different expectations based on their perceptions.
The examples above occur at much smaller scales in our daily lives without us knowing it because our nervous system is always at work to keep us out of danger and let us know when we are safe. If we feel stressed or rushing around all day, we never truly know what is going on in our bodies as to why we are building up tension to fight danger. We never truly come back down on that wave I showed you earlier.
Like I said earlier, the nervous system regulates our bodies as it is part of our mechanism to survive, no matter the costs- emotional, social, physical, psychological, etc. With many of these daily inputs, some may seem innocuous, but are raising our alarm systems constantly. This leaves us in a combative mode of rigidity, muscular tension, and limited abilities to fluctuate through the PNS/SNS spectrum.
Being chronically guarded, even when you don’t feel “stressed” may be a way that your brain is disconnecting itself from the body as a means to run away from it a danger, staying guarded in fear that it shows up again. Your are constantly running on 5th gear, over revving the engine for small tasks as past experiences and expectations of various inputs are telling you to do so.
Have no fear, there are still ways we can reconnect our mind-body to provide the nervous system with the proper set up to regulate you once again.
This following technique is credited to Dr. Seth Oberst. I attended a couple of his courses recently and he is a leading expert in understanding mind body connections while dealing with individuals in chronic pain.
Start off by finding a quiet place in your room, laying on the bed of sitting in the chair. Wherever you feel the most secure and supported. When you lay down and experience discomfort in a certain position such as neck tension or headaches, build up pillows around your head to make it feel more supported and secure. Or a towel under your lower back if that feels uncomfortable while laying down.
(maybe this is where you like to lay down)
Next close your eyes and start off by focusing on your breath. When an unpleasant or pleasant feeling ensues, STAY with it (I can’t emphasize that enough). See where it takes you and allow yourself to be more in-tuned with it. It may not completely go away, but it will allow you to be able to regulate its effects over time.
Do this for 5 min a day, and start to see if these discomforts bring up past memories of why this may be occurring. Then you can understand why your body is running from something, and be able to better regulate its effects, altering the perception and expectations.
So now we have a more in-depth view at how our nervous system can influence or pain, and how our past experiences and expectations of events can affect the outputs. With large amounts of information daily, are bodies can become dysregulated and overreach its need to match a stress, causing heightened SNS activity and inducing more stress on the system itself.
Also to learn more about Dr. Seth Oberst check out his website here to gain a greater appreciation of the wonderful work he is putting out there.
Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and enjoys to help active adults maintain their lifestyle and provide natural solutions to their pain.