20 Nov “Finding Okayness” Is Possible When You Have Pain, Discomfort or Anxiety.
Finding Okayness is a term I made up of course, because that’s how it feels to me; when your body, or an area of, is causing you pain, discomfort or worry, all you want is to feel OK – when you live with chronic conditions you don’t expect miracles (although its nice to hope for that sometimes), we just want some respite and to feel good enough; sensations or emotions that are manageable.
As a person living with health issues this concept of finding okayness has for many years consistently puzzled and frustrated me: how can we feel ok when we are struggling with something that we can’t change and is so damn disagreeable? The advice of medical professionals in the past was to “find a way to accept it”; an unsatisfyingly vague instruction.
The Holy Grail
Living with multiple chronic diseases, my quest was to find the ‘holy grail’ ie. how to feel ok whilst regularly feeling overwhelming fear, worry, pain and draining physical challenge.
Trying to reach a place of acceptance just via talking, rational thinking and behavioural changes (psychotherapy, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy)) is flawed – it partially helps but is more of a battle of will, is effortful and it doesn’t greatly impact emotions, meaning that finding a sense of calm, reassurance and “okayness” is very difficult.
It’s a Body & Brain Thing
Neuroscience (the study of the brain and nervous system) in recent years has revealed lots of understanding about how our brain and nervous system are both involved in our physical and emotional wellness, and Somatics is an highly effective way to access and catalyse change in both, allowing for feeling the seemingly elusive Okayness.
The brain and nervous system are “plastic”, which means that they are not hardwired but mouldable or changeable – this means that our body and brain change from input (life or health events) and we can actively change them. We have always known that we can change our bodies skeletal muscles (gainz) but until recent years we didn’t know that we can change our nervous system and brain.
So lets look at pain for a moment: when we experience pain in brief moments, like an ordinary headache, it’s normally manageable to us and an uncommon event so it doesn’t change our neural pathways (the signalling routes between body and brain). However if our pain becomes chronic or repetitive it starts to enhance the signal pathways effectively making us more sensitive to that pain. Brain and body communication and subconscious memory about that pain becomes more enhanced.
Our Evolution Sort of Fucks Us
This process is evolutionally for our safety and survival – if you recognise an injury as soon as possible you can act quickly to stop it. The “downside” of plasticity is when something is chronic, whether its pain, physical discomfort, fear, anxiety or something else it creates well-travelled pathways between body and brain reinforcing that pain or discomfort and making you more sensitive to it.
The advantageous side of plasticity is that we can actively change or offset those pathways by enhancing others that bring us into a more calm, resourced place where we feel reduced pain/discomfort/anxiety and more….OK. This process is rooted in gently building greater somatic awareness to noticing different bodily sensations that directly impact our lived experience. This concept sounds too simplistic but in fact holds the key to finding relief as well as physically changing the signals between body and brain. In summary, fine tuning our awareness of different bodily sensations means we can tune into feelings of OK even when experiencing pain or anxiety at the same time.
Where we place our attention….
When our focus of attention is on the part of our body that is causing us concern, which it naturally will be, it will bring us automatically into either a nervous system hyperarousal (“fight, flight, freeze”) or hypoarousal (shutdown/numb) state as a way to fix it, change it or get through it. Again this is how our body and brain attempts to keep us safe, however to stay in these states for a long time is harmful to your physical and emotional wellness. By finding sensations of Okayness it will gently re-orient our nervous system towards calm and stability by bringing us into a parasympathetic state (“rest, relax, digest”) where we will come out of overwhelm and into a greater sense of being able to manage the discomfort we are experiencing. The practice of Finding Okayness becomes nervous system regulating.
Somatic awareness exercises are simple and if you want to give it a try my FREE guided somatic exploration Finding Okayness is on the FREE RESOURCES page of my website. GO TO THE FREE RESOURCES PAGE AT WWW.TINACLARKEWELLNESS.COM TO GAIN ACCESS TO MULTIPLE SOMATIC EXPLORATIONS AND PRACTICES THAT ARE MADE FOR THOSE OF YOU, LIKE ME, LIVING WITH CHRONIC HEALTH ISSUES.
Somatic Therapy & it’s Uses https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/somatic-therapy
Awareness Skills for Emotional Regulation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5985305/
Neuroplasticity & Pain https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2013/198/4/neuroplasticity-and-pain-what-does-it-all-mean
The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Vander Kolk; When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Mate;