Are you or a loved one on a journey to heal chronic pain and anxiety? If so, you can heal your nervous system one thought at a time. Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) is when the brain signals pain without anything being wrong in the body.

The brain is making a mistake, and recovery is about teaching the brain to signal pain accurately.

Women with hands folded over her heart symbolizing peace and calmness to heal her nervous system one thought at a time.

Tension Myositis Syndrome

TMS is chronic pain, also known as neuroplastic or mind-body pain. It can include chronic back pain, fatigue, dizziness, head pain, fibromyalgia, pelvic pain, anxiety, and more.

Mind-body pain is the result of an overactive nervous system. Our brain thinks it needs to keep us safe even though we already are.

Healing your nervous system is the key to recovering from TMS. For most people with neuroplastic pain, fight/flight is the default state. When we live in a hypervigilant state, the brain gets more danger messages than safety messages. Pain can be learned by the unconscious mind and become a habit.

How do we become stuck in hypervigilance?

Fear-based thoughts form in childhood and become our mode of operation. It’s not our fault. This is a survival mechanism. Fear keeps us safe when we are growing up in unsafe homes. My home was loving, but my mother had severe anxiety, and it made me feel unsafe.

Fear kept us from saying and doing the wrong things. If you had reactive parents, the fear response would be more touchy. As in my case, we can also learn fearful thinking from fearful parents.

My mom often thought she was full of cancer. It was irrational thinking, but as a child, I believed her. This frightened me. I would lay awake at night worrying that I was going to lose my mom. My mother never did get cancer. She died of heart issues at age 62.

Fear-based thinking comes in many forms. Below is a list of some that might ring true to you.

4 Fear-based thoughts

  1. What-if thoughts
  2. Should or shouldn’t have thoughts
  3. Scarcity or never enough thinking
  4. “I’m not enough” thoughts

The one thing all these thoughts have in common is fear. They keep our brains in a fight/flight state, which increases the sensation of pain, and keep our nervous systems up-regulated.

What-if thoughts

What-if thoughts are common in those with TMS. They are anxious thoughts about the future. Some common what-if thoughts are:

  • What if something terrible happens?
  • What if I never get out of pain?
  • What if being active makes my pain worse?
  • What if I make a fool out of myself?
  • What if I never succeed?
  • What if I’m not approved of?

I worried constantly. I had thoughts such as, “What if I get fired from my job,” “What if one of my parents dies,” “What if I die?”

Later, after I had pain symptoms, I worried that medications would increase my head pain and that if I overdid it, I would be down and in bed for days.

Should or Shouldn’t have thoughts

“Should thoughts” are full of pressure and keep us in pain. Anytime we think we should be doing more, less, or something other than what we are doing, we are in fear. We are not okay with the present moment.

“Shouldn’t have” thoughts are full of regret. “I shouldn’t have said that” was a thought that kept me in a stressed-out state.

Scarcity or never enough thoughts

Time pressure is a source of scarcity that keeps us in a fight/flight state. Like many of us, I never feel like I have enough time, which results in feeling pressured all day. I tend to rush through things so that I have more time.

Other scarcity thoughts are:

  • Not enough Money
  • Not enough Friends
  • Not a good enough job
  • Not enough kids
  • Not a big enough house.
I am not enough.

“I’m not enough” may be the most damaging of all fear thoughts and is the reason for all the other negative thoughts. This is extremely common with people who are in pain. We don’t think we are enough.

This thought creates anxiety. It’s an unconscious belief that runs our lives. If we fail to change this belief, it will be hard to get out of pain because it always keeps our brains on high alert. If we don’t believe we are enough, we cannot live authentically and will have difficulty recovering.

Not to worry (no pun intended), we can learn to catch all of these crappy thoughts and heal our nervous system one thought at a time, and this is what we will discuss next.

How to heal your nervous system one thought at a time

One thought that has haunted me since the onset of my symptoms three decades ago is, “What if I don’t get enough sleep?” Does this sound familiar? This is a very common fear.” This is a pressure thought, and pressure thoughts are tricky.

Once we have a crappy thought, they tend to cascade. They can go like this; “What if I don’t sleep well tonight? If I don’t sleep well, I won’t be able to work; if I can’t work, I’m going to lose my job; if I lose my job, I will lose my house; if I lose my house….”

You get the idea. Below are five ways to heal your nervous system one thought at a time.

Five steps to healing your nervous system

1. Catch the fear thought

This takes a commitment. You are going to practice catching your crappy, negative thoughts if this is all you do. Ask yourself, “Do I want to keep living like this, or do I want to regulate my nervous system?

2. Be intentional

Make it happen. Fear thoughts are a way of living so it takes a lot of intention and awareness to catch the sneaky little things that creep in without us knowing. Tell yourself, “I will do this differently now because I want to enjoy my life.” You are worth it.

3. Challenge the fear thought

A fear thought is just an opinion. Instead of “What if I don’t sleep well tonight…” ask yourself, “What if I do sleep well tonight?” Have you died from not sleeping well yet? How many could say they didn’t sleep well last night if you were in a room full of people? Probably a lot of them.

It’s not dangerous to not always get a good night’s sleep. It’s prevalent and nothing to worry about. Trust me on this. Once you stop worrying about a good night’s sleep, you will get a good night’s sleep. Change your opinion about sleep.

4. Understand that you are safe 99% of the time.

We only need the fight/flight response in a 911 danger. We don’t need our nervous systems to be up-regulated all the time.

5. Feel what safety feels like in your body.

Learn the difference between the feeling of a fear thought and a safe thought. Feeling safe and secure in our body tells our brain everything is okay.

Do you want to worry about the future or what others think of you at the cost of your health? Do you want to keep ruminating, regretting the past, and giving your brain danger messages?

The brain fights to be in a high-alert state because that is what is familiar. However, if you intentionally catch these thoughts, challenge them, understand that you are safe, and feel safety in your body, you will prevail over your survival brain.

Fear thoughts come less with practice and repetition. You can heal your nervous system one thought at a time.

Read Stacey’s Recovery Story to find out more about her journey with chronic pain.

Click here for Pain Recovery Coaching, email us at [email protected], or fill out our contact form.

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