Solutions For Handling Chronic Pain And Anxiety | Dr. David Hanscom | Episode 77
Many of our teenagers are dealing with chronic pain. Whether it’s a sport’s injury, illness, or other physical ailment, handling chronic pain can leave them frustrated, angry or depressed. Interestingly, emotional pain and physical pain both cause anxiety so, regardless of the origin of the pain, the same tools can be used to help decrease or alleviate the suffering our teens are enduring. Through his own personal ordeal, Dr. David Hanscom discovered that chronic pain is curable by systematically using established medical practices in a self-directed manner. He first utilized these practices to help himself then put them into practice with his patients. Now he is sharing his discoveries and insights with Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler as they explore the physiology of anxiety and how tackling that can help us in handling chronic pain and anxiety, whether the pain is emotional or physical.
Anxiety is the result rather than the cause of the problem.
High Points of Handling Chronic Pain And Anxiety:
Anxiety is just the sensation created by the body’s stress chemicals. It’s an unconscious survival response which is a million times stronger than the conscious brain. It is not subject to psychological interventions because it’s a massive neuro-chemical survival response.
When you come from a chaotic family you’re in a hyper-vigilant state all the time, but you think that’s normal.
Mental threats and physical threats affect the same place in the brain so physical pain and emotional pain are the same. The brain triggers a chemical response which, in turn, creates an autonomic nervous system response.
The problem humans have is that we can’t escape our thoughts. We either have to experience them, suppress them, or mask them with behaviors. When we suppress them our bodies get overwhelmed and we develop physical symptoms. When we mask them we often create an addiction.
In our culture we worship overachieving and those people often are living in a world of stress and anxiety. Kids can use this as a coping mechanism for masking or suppressing their feelings and they end up with physical problems created by the constant barrage of stress chemicals.
The anxiety-pain cycle is vicious. The symptoms of pain cause anxiety then anxiety causes pain. That pain creates more anxiety which causes more pain, and the cycle continues.
Thoughts and emotions are actually made in our brains. Thoughts are our version of reality and are actually based on the past.
The antidote to anxiety is control. When we take protective action then we feel in control, our body stops secreting stress chemicals and the anxiety stops.
Anger is uncontrolled anxiety.
Kids who are bullied have elevated stress markers. Bullies have lower stress level markers. So, essentially, bullies are receiving a physical reward for bullying behavior. This may be because having control lowers stress and bullies are taking control while the bullied are losing control, thereby, impacting their stress markers.
When we are at play our bodies secrete feel-good chemicals.
Our sense of well being is dependent on our body’s chemical makeup on a given day. If you’re full of Gabba and other feel-good hormones then it’s a good day. If your body is full of stress chemicals then it’s a bad day. The essence of the solution is to learn how to regulate your own body’s chemistry.
There are many simple tools that can help us reduce our body’s stress chemicals.
Homework from Dr. Hanscom: First, remember you can’t control this stuff. You can become aware of what’s happening then take steps to decrease adrenaline, cortisol, and histamines. You can do this directly through relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, and exercise. These decrease the body’s chemicals. Secondly, you can train your brain to be less reactive to the stress response. You can do this through positive substitution where you shift the way you think about things such as thinking “I could” vs “I should”.
Focus on your vision and what you want rather than your pain. If you focus on fixing your pain then your focus is on the pain and it keeps your brain using the same old neural pathways. The goal is to create new neural pathways.
Dr. Hanscom’s number one suggestion for parents of teens and twenty-somethings boils down to one word—play. Play with your kids. Spend time together living and doing things that are fun. You’ll flood your body with feel-good hormones and develop neural pathways that encourage more of the same.
Resources Mentioned in Show:
How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett
Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, M.D.
Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr Thomas Gordon
Dr. David Hanscom is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializing in the surgical correction of complex spine problems in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. He has expertise in adult and pediatric spinal deformities such as scoliosis and kyphosis. A significant part of his practice was devoted to performing surgery on patients who had undergone multiple prior spine surgeries.
He is now focusing his efforts on bringing effective medical treatments for chronic mental and physical pain back into mainstream medicine. He is creating a business structure, Vertus, Inc. that also will present these concepts to the public.
Around 2001 he began to share his own stress management tools with his patients that were in pain but had no indications for surgery. He had spent much of his career with rehabilitation physicians learning non-operative care. By 2006 a structured spine treatment protocol evolved from his own experience escaping from chronic pain He published a book, Back in Control: A Surgeon’s Roadmap Out of Chronic Pain that is the basis of the program. His website, www.backincontrol.com is the action plan for DOC project (Direct your Own Care). Even patients with surgical problems often experience resolution of their pain without an operation.
Judy Davis and Sandy Fowler are entrepreneurs who help people live better lives. After creating DASIUM they realized they could help parents avoid the challenges and pain they experienced. Mighty Parenting is what families need to get real, relevant information about raising teens and parenting young adults in today's world.
717 St. Joseph Dr #202 St. Joseph, MI 49085
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