Can you recover from Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS)? I’m living proof that you can. TMS is treatable, and a full recovery is possible. It seems impossible that your brain could cause so much pain or so many uncomfortable symptoms, but our brains are powerful and will try to protect us at all costs. Read on to learn the 10 steps to treating TMS so you can recover fully too.

Peaceful blue water with soothing rocks creating a gentle ripple.
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Recovering from TMS is simple but not easy. It takes time and repetition for most people, as it did for me. We have to learn to respond differently to our pain and to other stressors in our lives. We have to change our default reactions from fear to safety. Many people have done it, including myself, and you can do it too. Below are the 10 steps to treating TMS.

What is TMS?

TMS occurs when the brain signals pain even though nothing is wrong with the body. Sometimes, an initial injury has healed, but the brain still signals pain. This happens because our brains can learn pain. Pain can become a habit, just like any other habit.

Here is an article that explains tension myositis syndrome in much more detail.

Can I Recover From TMS?

The answer is yes, and here are the 10 steps to treat TMS.

  1. Understand pain education.
  2. Understand the purpose of your symptoms. The symptoms are there to keep you safe.
  3. Develop Awareness and relax your nervous system. (see below)
  4. Stop compromising yourself. If you feel like you should but don’t want to, if at all possible, don’t.
  5. Tame your critical voice. Start talking kindly to yourself with self-compassion.
  6. Stop people pleasing. Do what is best for you first, always. You will have more energy to help others when needed.
  7. Learn the true meaning of self-care.
  8. Strive for excellence, not perfection. When you strive for excellence and fail, you practice self-compassion. When you strive for perfection (which is impossible) and fail, you beat yourself up.
  9. Give your brain more safety messages than danger messages. Remind yourself that your symptoms are safe. There is nothing wrong. You are overall safe and are slowly teaching your primitive brain this.
  10. Focus on what brings you joy and contentment. Instead of focusing on what is wrong in your life, begin to start focusing on what is going well, and what brings you joy.

Improving one of these steps will often improve the others. If you stop people-pleasing, you will also compromise yourself less. Those of us with TMS often compromise ourselves. We take on more than what is best for us. It might work for your friend, but it is too much for you, and that is okay.

Pain Education

Understanding pain education when treating TMS is important because nothing needs to be fixed. There is nothing physically wrong. No more doctors, no more physical therapy, no more nutritionists; this is what I mean by saying there is nothing we need to fix.

You don’t have to work so hard anymore. You can take a breath. It’s just that our primitive brain, or unconscious, is in charge and keeps us preoccupied with our pain, fatigue, or any other TMS symptoms we may have. Our brain is running on automatic.

TMS, also called Neuroplastic Pain or Mind-Body Pain, occurs when nothing is wrong with the body, but the brain signals pain. The brain is just making a mistake. Our brains always try to keep us safe, and pain keeps us safe.

When we sprain an ankle or touch a hot burner, pain keeps us from further injury. Sometimes, the brain signals pain as if something is wrong with the body when there is actually nothing wrong.

Understanding The Symptoms

Chronic Pain is not the only symptom of TMS. Preoccupation with loved ones, worry about what other people think, perfectionism, and ruminating about the past are symptoms of neuroplastic pain because they are all designed to keep us safe. Because of how we were wired usually as children, our primitive brain believes that these symptoms keep us safe and will do anything to keep us in this fear/pain/fear cycle. We will have these symptoms as long as the fear brain is in charge.

In the case of TMS, the pain is just a false warning signal. We can disregard it. But our fear brain is in charge; it is in the driver’s seat and on high alert, signaling pain to warn us and keep us safe, but we are already safe. It’s just a false warning.

What is Fight/Flight/Freeze/Fawn?

Kids who feel safe don’t have this chronic issue. Their rational brain is in charge most of the time, and their fear brain takes over mostly only when there is a real danger. After the danger is resolved, they go out of fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode, and their rational brain
takes over again. 

When kids feel chronically unsafe, their primitive brains are in charge most of the time. The brain gets kicked into fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode, and after a while, it just stays there. It doesn’t turn off. They don’t have near-access to their rational brain, so the rational brain takes a back seat. 

When the fear brain is in charge and is in high alert mode, we become hyper-vigilant. Things seem bigger than they really are. Everything seems really important. It interprets things as dangerous when they are safe. We take life too seriously. It sends out false warnings, and we react to the false alarm by fighting, fleeing, freezing, or fawning. We scare ourselves.

When we fight, we resist. We don’t want it. We grapple with it. When we flee, we run from the pain or whatever it is we are afraid of. It might be thoughts or feelings. When we freeze, we are numb, not feeling, or not in our own experience.  When we fawn, we become small, lesser; we people-please.

To treat and heal from TMS, we need to get our brains out of fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode and teach our brains how to live in peace and calm.

To treat and heal from chronic pain, we must calm down the fear brain. To calm it down, we must be aware that it is in a high alert state or in fight or flight.

Awareness In Healing From Chronic Pain

To heal from chronic pain, we must be aware of what our brain is doing before we can slow it down. We can only control it when we are aware of it. We must practice awareness.

5 Steps To Awareness

  1. Breathing Techniques
  2. Meditation
  3. Journaling
  4. Somatic Tracking
  5. Inner Child Work

Daily practicing some or all of the above techniques can get you well on your way to gaining awareness and obtaining some control over your primitive brain. Working these techniques with an energy of ease and lightness is best. We don’t have to do them perfectly. A few minutes of awareness practice a day adds up.

Breathing Techniques

I have used all of the above techniques over the years. Deep breathing is one of my favorites, and many other breathing techniques are on YouTube. I recommend a short practice, such as this deep breathing exercise by Calm. Short practices are sustainable. It just takes a short pause in your day to get centered or grounded.

Meditation

This 5-minute noticing meditation is a great way to get out of your head and into your body to feel more relaxed.

Journaling

I have been journaling for years to help myself become more aware of my thoughts, feelings, reactions, and responses. Five minutes of writing down whatever comes to mind each day was so important for me to be able to see my fear brain on paper. Journaling served as a gateway to my rational brain.

Somatic Tracking

Somatic Tracking is probably the most useful tool for reducing or eliminating fear over pain sensations. It’s also used for emotional awareness. I have listened to this podcast, Tell Me About Your Pain, many times to help me understand somatic tracking and practice it on myself.

Inner Child Work

Treating Tension Myositis syndrome is like a reparenting process. I consider my unconscious mind or my fear brain my inner child. As children, most of us who deal with chronic pain are conditioned to perceive life through a lens of danger, which happens through adverse childhood experiences.

Inner child work is working with this part of our brain and reparenting it to realize it is safe and can actually feel safe. I feel the best way to do this is to make a daily practice of talking to and comforting your child self through visualization. Getting used to doing this takes practice, but it is very powerful and extremely healing.

A Pain-Free Life

We can slow down the fear brain by doing the daily practices above and learning how to respond to false alarms with greater ease. Just knowing that it’s a false alarm makes it not scary. We know it’s safe. We notice it, become curious about it, and have compassion for the fear brain, the inner child that is suffering. Now, the rational brain starts to take over. 

The more we keep recognizing that the fear brain is sending out false alarms and that there really is no danger, the more the fear will start to dissipate and send out fewer false alarms. They become fewer and fewer, and the rational brain is in charge most of the time. The fear brain only takes over when there is a true 911 danger. It doesn’t send out too many false alarms. After the danger is resolved, the brain goes out of fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode, and the rational brain is back in charge.

Once the rational brain is in charge, we have choices and can now choose how we respond to the threats in our lives. We begin to choose our best life instead of our default life. this is how we heal from TMS and how we change our default from responding with fear to responding with ease and safety, which sends safety signals instead of danger signals to our brains, turning down pain.

How do you want your life to be?

Read my post, Self-Care, The Cure for TMS? to learn more about how to treat and heal TMS.

Click here for more information about Pain Coaching with Stacey.

 

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2 Comments

  1. This is so insightful! Thank you for sharing. Even though I don’t have the same health issues, I can relate to the thought process.

  2. Thank you! Retraining our neuropathways to respond with love instead of reacting with fear does not just apply to those of us with chronic pain. I think awareness of this process could benefit everyone.

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