Fight or Flight = Fear of Pain

You may have heard that chronic pain is linked to anxiety and stress. But it is also linked directly to your body’s “fight or flight” response. In fact, ALL of these things are synergistically related.

Chronic pain and stress are very much related, and the body can internalize these things so the more stress we experience, the worse our pain is going to get.

Some people don’t even believe that, but it’s quite real! I know when I’m going through stress, my body reacts a lot worse and with more pain than if I’m calm and relaxed.

Now there are a lot of reasons for this, and it is kind of a vicious cycle. But if you know anything about the fight or flight response—basically the body’s reaction to stress when something startles or scares you or when your body is feeling threatened for its life—your body goes into fight or flight response.

This type of response is a lot for the body to deal with because it is this burst of adrenaline—this constantly aggressive reaction that your body takes on.

People Who Deal With Chronic Pain Are In a Constant State of Fight-or-Flight

If a person has been dealing with chronic pain for a significant amount of time, their body is always going to be in an agitated state. This gets worse as time goes on because, if you think about it, when we experience FEAR (which is really just the anticipation of future pain), the body goes into fight or flight.

If the body is dealing with chronic pain, it is always anticipating pain. Because it knows the pain is always there, it is always going to be there, and it knows it is about to suffer. So the body is currently and continually in self-preservation mode.

The body gets into this crunched up state. It just holds on tight because it is always preparing for that pain and bracing itself for that oncoming stress on the system and pain receptors.

This is really serious and really damaging because the body internalizes all of that. So for those of us that are walking around all the time; constantly anticipating pain, our bodies are in a very regular state of fear. This is where the anxiety comes in.

This is a Vicious Cycle

Now the thing is, it’s a vicious cycle because the anxiety can cause fear, which can cause pain. But also, the pain causes anxiety, which can cause fear—and the fear can also cause pain, which can cause anxiety. So it’s a vicious loop. It goes around and around.


Photo by boram kim

So What Do We Do About It?

Is there a way out of it?

Well yes, there is. And don’t worry, it’s not exactly the typical “Hey you should just have less stress” answer. Because I think we’re all pretty familiar with hearing that, and we’re probably all pretty tired of hearing that! I know I am!

A lot of doctors used to tell me “You just have to cut your stress levels down” because you know that’s an option—let me just make my life less stressful, please…  SO not the best way to go about it!

The best way to go about handling this is to actually acknowledge the fear and stress and anxiety. Acknowledge the emotions that are coming at you. Because it’s actually up to you whether or not you want to respond to these emotions or not.

I know that sounds like a lot and it’s hard when you’re in that moment. It’s really hard to actually just not respond when you are in that terrible pain-state. But when you acknowledge that it’s happening and actually accept it—acknowledge it and let it go—it really makes a huge difference!

That doesn’t mean you’re burying it down. You don’t want to take that and internalize it deep down inside you because that’s just going to make the pain worse in the long run.

But if something really stressful around you is happening—like say you’re having a huge flare-up in your pain; that’s going to cause you stress—just take a look at that pain and accept that pain for what it is: It hurts! It sucks!

Now Try to Just Acknowledge It and Then Try to Let It Go Emotionally

Obviously, the pain is still there—but just try to let it go from your mental state. The same thing goes with emotions. So if someone is yelling at you-you’re taking all that in and internalizing it. It’s really stressful. Then it can start to cause flare-ups in your body, which is really unpleasant.

But if we have this reaction when someone is yelling at us, we will have a more detached response if we just try to stop and think, “Okay, my body and mind are having this reaction. Let’s accept this.”

There is also another method which involves offering your pain to the universe, which you can read more about in THIS POST.

What About Anger?

The other issue is when people try to repress anger because a lot of us believe that as people on a spiritual path, we shouldn’t be getting angry. But the fact is, anger is just an emotion. A normal emotion.

When the anger comes up, just acknowledge that it’s there and accept that it’s anger and then let it go.

You are not the one getting angry. You are not the one having these reactions. These emotions are coming up, and you can acknowledge them and let them go. And that is so far the best thing you can do for yourself to take the steps on this path.

The fear and the sadness which accompanies the physical pain—acknowledge that it’s there and accept it as part of the path that you are on right now.

An interesting thing someone told me just really casually (and she was not talking about chronic pain. She was just talking about I think stress or something, but it stuck with me) was how she approaches everything with the attitude of just “Yep. This is what’s going on right now.”

And I remember thinking that was so helpful! Even things like getting a tattoo, or bloodwork or something—you sit there like “wow, this is what’s going on right now. Okay.” And you accept it, and somehow you amazingly start to feel better. It’s actually really just incredible.

It is quite the phenomenon—accepting the crap that sucks in your life makes it easier to let go of! Because you can’t actually let go of anything until you accept it first.

Take it Step By Step

Just remember, even though they say “pain is mandatory, but suffering is optional,” it can take a long time to get to the point of making suffering actually optional. So take it in little bits. One step at a time. And don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t become enlightened and 100% pain-free in the next five minutes!

Suffering is optional, but first, you have to accept that suffering is there before you can opt out of it.

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