When chronic pain is a symptom of nervous system dysregulation | Xing Shen
When chronic pain is a symptom of nervous system dysregulation |
Xing Shen |
Mind – Body Medicine |
In Chinese (pinyin spelling) :
Xing means “physical body”,
Shen means “consciousness or mental activity
In TCM mind-body are inseparable, like water is inseparable from a wave.
Medicine is practiced from a HOLISTIC perspective, and the concept of Xing Shen illustrates this.
In the West, the mind-body connection, and difficult to treat chronic pain, can be explained as well.
Chronic pain is one of the most common symptoms of nervous system dysregulation.
(This means that the most common symptom that an individual in nervous system dysregulation experiences is pain. It does not mean that most chronic pain is due to nervous system dysregulation.)
The same neural network in the brain is activated regardless of what type of pain is experienced. Be it emotional, physical, or social pain, like rejection, it is still the same brain pathway.
Chronic pain can also cause strong emotional responses, such as fear, despair or anger, and understandably so.
Emotions like fear, anger, and despair are associated with increased activity in the amygdala, the anterior cingulate cortex, and the insula. These areas of our brain are important for pain perception, and also for regulating stress and emotion.
As an example, whether a sensation is seen as threatening or not by the amygdala, depends on if you believe that you have enough coping resources! This means that even though something may be experienced as unpleasant, if you believe that you have agency, and a choice etc., your stress arousal immediately decreases and your nervous system re-regulates itself.
However, pain that is experienced as overwhelming or uncontrollable brings a strong anxiety, anger, or despair response, and in turn, a greater intensity in physical pain.
Chronic stress and dysregulation can increase the activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula. This heightened neural activity can amplify pain because they are involved in both pain perception and emotional regulation!
Chronic and traumatic stress not only influences the nervous system, but also the endocrine system (hormones) and the immune system, (inflammation) amplifying pain through additional Xing Shen (mind-body) pathways.
Resources that regulate the nervous system, such as prayer, meditation, yoga, and acupuncture can help you experience less distress and fear about your pain.
Since emotional and physical pain use the same neural networks, improving emotional regulation reduces pain. This does not mean that “pain is all in your head”, the body is simply as inseparable form the mind and emotions as a wave is from the water. They belong together and flow together in a completely natural existence that begins at birth and continues throughout life. In western medicine there is often a judgement coupled with mind-body medicine, but in TCM, this connection is seen as inevitable, inseparable, natural and normal.
By regulating the nervous system there will be less activity in the amygdala, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex, and pain levels will decrease. you will experience less anxiety, less distress and less helplessness.