Yoga Nidra Chronic Pain Fear: Getting Out of the Trap

It’s natural to be anxious when you are in pain, to be afraid that something you do or don’t do will increase it. But there is a difference between normal, healthy fear and unhealthy fear. Healthy fear is nature’s way of alerting you to risk; it gets you to think about what you’re doing and to take steps to ensure your safety. For example, your fears of running out into the middle of a busy freeway or jumping off the roof of your house are healthy fears that keep you safe.

Unhealthy fear, on the other hand, stops you dead in your tracks for no real reason and keeps you stuck in your pain. You may be afraid to do your exercises, go to work, leave the house, or even leave the room. You may become so controlled by unhealthy fears that you can’t get better.

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When you’re stuck, you feel boxed in and helpless; you’re frustrated because you can no longer do many of the things that used to bring you pleasure, like meeting with friends, engaging in sports and hobbies, or just getting through your work day. The feeling that your body “just doesn’t work anymore” can open the door to anxiety, loss of self-esteem, and depression—negative thinking that magnifies your pain. It’s a vicious circle: Your pain creates fear, and your fear heightens your pain— which makes you even more fearful.

One way to break this cycle is to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fears. If your leg hurts, it’s perfectly normal to fear climbing a mountain. But is it also healthy to fear walking around the block? If you were hit by a car while crossing the street, it’s natural to be anxious the next time you cross a street and to look carefully both ways—twice! But it’s not healthy to refuse to cross a street ever again because you’re fearful. A better idea is to ask a friend to accompany you across the street the first couple of times, watching for danger, and hugging you once you make it.

The first crucial step in dealing with unhealthy fears is to recognize them Which thoughts or worries stand in your way of having a better life? Sometimes it’s hard to know which of your fears may be unhealthy; you might need to ask someone you trust to tell you what she sees. And you should discuss it with your physician and other healers to get their perspectives, as well.

Once you understand which of your fears are problematic, begin to work to overcome them. Try taking baby steps, which will help build your confidence. If getting out of the house is a problem, for example, start with a short walk around the block. Then, when that seems comfortable, add a few blocks. The next step may be a trip to the mall, and so on. Building confidence step by step will help you break through your fears, and slowly but surely you’ll begin to realize what you can accomplish.

Always remember that there are others who want to help you succeed. Take advantage of their support! Writing your fears in a journal and keeping track of your progress as you face them can also help.

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