Getting Out of High Alert

Getting out of high alert, or fight/flight/freeze/fawn seems impossible for those of us with chronic pain, fatigue, or other TMS symptoms, but I’m here to tell you that it is possible. We just need to teach our brains how to respond differently. Our brains are always learning, and they can learn how to get out of high alert and live in the peace and calm, just like they learn other habits.

TMS stands for Tension Myositis Syndrome, and it is when the brain creates pain to protect us even though there is no injury, or an injury has healed and the pain persists. TMS can also be known as Neuroplastic Pain, or Mind-Body Pain.

You can read more about TMS here.

TMS is when our brain interprets safe signals from the nerve endings in our body as dangerous. Our brains are just making a mistake. Sometimes when our brain is on high alert, it will interpret things as dangerous, when they are safe. Living in a state of high alert is just a habit, and we can teach our brain to live in the peace and calm, and only go into a high alert state when necessary.

My mother was what they used to call a nervous wreck. She worried about dying incessantly, that either she would die and leave us, or that one of us would die and leave her. When she felt a little pain somewhere in her body she would immediately think she was full of cancer. There was no rational thought involved here.

She was scared to death of death. I don’t remember this incident, but my brother has told me about it. We were driving high in the mountains in northern Idaho on our way to Seattle. A car came close to hitting us, and if it would have it would have knocked us into a canyon. She looked down and said “Kids, if that car would’ve hit us, we would have ended up at the bottom of that canyon!”

Another time we were driving in Nebraska and pulling a camper trailer. My dad made a left turn too soon and a little red Mustang drove right through the camper. No one was injured, but my mom turned back to us and said, “Kids, can you imagine what would have happened if one of us would have been riding in that trailer?”

Most mothers would have wanted to ease our fears. Her instincts were to ignite. She thought this would keep us safe.

I could tell story after story, but needless to say my brain has been on high alert since a very young age, always looking out for danger, always worried that the other shoe may drop at any time.

The only time our brains need to be on high alert is when there is a true 911 danger. A car pulls out in front of us, and our brain goes into high alert to keep us safe, and then calms back down. We are out hiking and see a mountain lion and our brain goes into high alert. If we survive that, haha, it calms back down after the mountain lion is gone.

Sometimes when our brains are on high alert for a long time, we start to feel pain where there is no injury. Our brains use the pain to try and protect us. They will do anything to keep us in high alert, to keep us safe.

We learn self-awareness, or mindfulness. We know logically that there is no 911 danger, but our primitive brain doesn’t know. The more mindful we become, the more we can teach it that we are safe. We stop scaring ourselves, we practice self-care. Alan Gordon, the author of “The Way Out,” calls these experiences “corrective experiences.” They happen when we teach our brain safety. Our brains will go back into high alert, but the more corrective experiences we have, the less our brains will be on high alert.

Eventually our brains are out of high alert and are now interpreting safe sensations correctly.

I’m not saying it’s easy, it takes repetition and persistence, but doesn’t everything in life that’s worth striving for?

If my mom were alive today, I would want her to know that ninety nine percent of the time she was safe, and we were safe, but she lived like 99 percent of the time we were in danger, and one percent of the time we were safe.

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