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Cycles, machines and cogs- the hidden catalysts of pain and recovery

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

When you have pain, it can feel like you are fighting a losing battle. The pain can affect your physical and mental health, which makes the pain worse, and the cycle continues.

In this post, you will learn:

· The negative cycle of pain

· The 3 "cogs” in the cycle of pain

· How to turn a negative cycle into a positive cycle.

· How to gain momentum within your recovery cycle.

The downward spiral

Have you ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed and feel like your day is going from bad to worse?

You haven’t slept well, wake up groggy, get stuck in traffic because you left later than usual, arrive to work late, have a negative interaction with your colleagues/and or customers, which makes your mood worse, which makes you snap at your manager, which leads to a disciplinary, which makes you lose sleep and then wake up tired the next day.

The risk of something spiralling downwards into a negative cycle is all around us in many contexts and being aware of this is important for your recovery when you have pain.

Here is another example in the context of pain.

Sarah pulls her back getting out of her car. The pain is quite severe and she is worried that she may have done some serious damage. She tells her squash partner that she isn’t playing this week, call sin sick for work and rests at home. After a couple of days, the pain hasn’t improved so she starts to google what it might be. She worries more about what it could be and reads more to try and work it out. She loses 2 nights sleep because she cant get comfortable and starts to feel a rise in her anxiety and depression that she has been managing well with exercise. The pain persists but goes back to her work which is busy and seems to be making it worse, which makes her more tired and stiff.

You can see here how easy it can be to fall down a slippery slope of pain. The good thing is that when you are aware of the cycle of pain, you can become mindful and ensure that you are not within one yourself.

The 3 cogs

We need to zoom out a little bit to see that a negative cycle is actually composed of 3 separate components that all keep the other one turning.

This is important to understand because it is a little bit like cogs in a machine, if one is broken, then the machine no longer continues.

Think, feel, do

Pain arises for several reasons. Once pain rises into our consciousness, we are usually trying to make sense of it. We start to think about the possible causes of our pain.

You can become consumed within a train of thought on what might be happening to you. In the case of back pain, people can start to worry that they have done some serious damage. They start visualising the possible injuries that have occurred in the body or think of themselves as damaged goods that have no hope of becoming well again.

Once we start to think negatively about the origins of our pain and have low expectations of our recovery, this is when it can have a dramatic impact on how we feel. We can start to feel a number of negative emotions like frustration, confusion, anxiety, low mood.

What we think and how we feel often has a major influence on what we then do. You can start to become quite guarded in your movement, you can start to avoid things or possibly push through the pain with resentment. You can start to withdraw yourself from your social gatherings and hobbies or call in sick for work.

What we think, how we feel and what we do can then all contribute to the pain further and then the cycle continues!

Flipping the cycle

So now we know that pain can become persistent or worsened when you have entered a downward spiral and negative cycle, and this cycle consists of 3 main components that influence each other- what you think, feel and do.

With this knowledge, we can now voluntarily influence these “cogs” to get them to work in our favour and turn a negative cycle into a positive one.

1. Change your thinking

In this post, we discussed how most pains are not serious and we can often experience pain without major injury.

When you have been assessed thoroughly and a professional has reassured you that there is no serious injury to be concerned about, then you can start to think about your body in a more positive light and attribute your pain to your nervous system simply trying to protect you.

Once you think of pain as a protective mechanism, rather than an indicator of how bad the injury is, then the “thinking cog” within the negative cycle can be flipped and you can start to feel more positive emotion.

2. Be mindful of pain vs suffering

When you experience pain, the way you interpret the pain can influence your relationship with it and the emotions you feel along side the pain.

In buddism, they refer to pain and suffering as “the 2 arrows”. As humans, we often layer negative emotion on top of pain. We worry about the nature of the pain and how long it will last which can bring about an abundance of negative emotions like anxiety and low mood. When you are mindful of this, you can remove the added layer or “second arrow” which is perpetuating the issue.

Remove the suffering from the pain and you give pain an opportunity to dissipate.

3. Take back control on what you do

Pain can often become all consuming and you star to do less and less and more and more things become painful. You can begin to stop doing the things you enjoy or become overly guarded in your movement.

When you pick a goal and start to work toward it very gradually and find the sweet spot between avoidance of activities or persistence through pain, then you are in the drivers seat. You are in control, rather than the pain controlling you.

Gaining momentum

You are only ever in a negative cycle or a positive one.

If you are in a negative cycle, the time is NOW to flip it into a positive one. You only need to make one small change within one of these “cogs”. You simply need to work on either what you think, how you feel, or what you do and this will have a positive influence.

It is then a matter of continuing the momentum of this positive cycle to a point where you are recovering.

Once you start to make a change, you start to feel better and once you start to feel better, then you start to make more changes to the point that you are much more resilient and pain free than before.

In conclusion

It is extremely easy to fall into a slippery downward slope when you have pain. When you assess what you are thinking, feeling and doing then you can start to turn a negative cycle of pain into a positive cycle of recovery.

Thanks for reading.

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