Why does my anxiety hurt, literally?
Do you ever find yourself grunting “I swear, there is something wrong with my body” despite the numerous tests that doctors conduct that come back negative for any physical problem?
No. you are NOT crazy. Psychosomatic pain IS real pain and you are most definitely not alone.
The mind and body have a strong connection and science continues to prove just how much one can impact the other. Our brain is actually able to communicate with our body via neurotransmitters- or, for those non-scientific a “chemical messenger.” When the brain senses danger, our body is able to respond in a manner that protects it.
But what happens if our brain senses
a threat when there is no actual danger?
Here’s an example you might be able to relate to.
It’s the evening before your first day of school. You are trying to go to sleep but your heart is racing and your stomach is in knots. Congratulations! You, too, have experienced a form of psychogenic sensations. Your brain is sensing danger (school/the unknown) and your body is feeling those signals (pain/discomfort). This does not tend to scare most people as they recognize this feeling as ‘anxiety.’ However, these sensations can manifest in other parts of our body just as easily. And the more that we feel them, the stronger they are wired into our brains to feel the sensations over, and over again.
This can present for a variety of reasons. For some, these sensations may originate from a structural injury that is physically healed, yet still felt. This is because our brains become rewired in the process to fear the pain or ‘triggers’ that we are trained to avoid.
For example, Lucy is a gymnast and fell off the beam in practice. She bruised her spine but the doctors are not concerned. After a while, the pain is still present despite doctors running the gauntlet of tests and clearing her of any structural injury.
Lucy returns to practice with the doctor’s permission but feels pain in situations like when she sits for too long in a hard chair. Lucy’s brain is perceiving the chair to be dangerous for her body, despite the evidence that it has no impact on her backs structural integrity. Lucy must train her brain that a chair is a safe object. How? Exposure. Mindfulness. Self-Care.
The process of unlearning, relearning, and making new associations takes time. One of the most beneficial tips during the process is to constantly reassure yourself you are SAFE. While your brain is perceiving a threat (thus, sending an unnecessary danger signal) your body is feeling those physical sensations in efforts to protect yourself. Reminding your brain that you are safe will help ease the anxiety and ultimately the sensation will subside. Yes, easier said than done. But trust me when I say this is the process.
If you find yourself relating to this, do not hesitate to get help! You’re not crazy. You’re not alone. You are on the start to healing.