Here’s a scenario that comes up a lot on the path of chronic pain recovery:
You hear that a particular technique will help you heal your symptoms. Maybe it’s expressive writing (one of my favorites to recommend), or meditation, or yoga, or somatic tracking, or something else…
And you hear that, in order to reap the benefits of this technique, you’ll probably have to give it time, practice and patience. After all, your nervous system has had a long time to practise being on high alert and sending symptoms as alarm bells. So naturally, it’ll take time, consistency and repetition to coach your nervous system into a new pattern of feeling safe, strong and regulated. The healing technique (whether it’s breathwork or journaling or something else) may feel uncomfortable at first, and symptoms may worsen before they get better. But that’s part of the road to recovery.
And here’s where one of the big dilemmas of the healing journey arises:
How do you know when you should stick with a mind-body technique and give it more time — and how do you know when you should give it a rest, switch gears and try something different?
Because both of these things are true:
👉 Consistency, repetition and practice are very helpful when shifting well-worn neural pathways. And…
👉 The urgency that we feel about reducing our symptoms can lead us to confuse consistency with relentlessness. The former is supportive. The latter, not so much.
There are a gazillion different techniques out there that can potentially support you in your recovery. There is no one “best technique” that is guaranteed to “work” for chronic pain recovery.
In my opinion, the technique you choose is far less important than your approach to the technique.
It’s not about whether you use expressive writing or yoga or meditation or somatic tracking or a combination of all the above. It’s about how you use these techniques.
👉 Are you using the technique to gently and consistently support your nervous system? Do you allow yourself to slow down and pause when the technique feels like it’s difficult or too much, and then come back to it again later? Do you feel as though this technique is becoming your friend over time, regardless of where your symptoms are at right now? Do you feel you’re getting to know yourself and softening toward yourself with compassion through this technique?
If so, great! It’s probably a wonderful idea to keep at it.
👉 Or are you using the technique as a punishment for not being “healed” already? Are you inflicting this technique on yourself like a drill sergeant, regardless of how you’re feeling? Are you forcing yourself to do the technique against your own will? Does the technique feel like it’s your enemy? Do you feel more and more angry and frustrated with yourself as you use this technique?
If that’s the case, then I implore you to pause. And remember that the one, singular goal of chronic pain recovery work is this: To help your nervous system feel safe. Being hard on yourself will not accomplish this goal.
If your recovery work is feeling like penance, it may be time to stop what you’re doing for a moment and regroup. I often encourage clients in this situation to let go of all expectations of themselves, take a “f**ck it” day or week or month, and focus on this and this alone: Only doing things that feel good, fun or comforting to you. Let yourself take a break. And then regroup to find a more compassionate way forward. Maybe that way forward involves choosing a different technique that doesn’t bring forth your inner drill sergeant quite as much.
Sending warmth, encouragement and infinite belief in you,