- There is deep basic science research that has revealed the nature of chronic pain and this understanding will allow you to discover your version of a solution. The essence of the problem is sustained exposure to threat and the core of the solution lies in finding safety.
- Create safety by learning skills to:
- Stimulate neuroplasticity – create and shift to new neurological circuits in your brain.
- Learn to regulate your body’s neurochemical response to threats (stresses).
- As you learn about chronic pain, it is helpful to simply get started using some of these core tools to “jump start” the healing process.
- Expressive writing
- Active meditation
- Restful sleep
- No discussing your pain or medical care with others – especially your family
Many years ago, I would spend hours explaining chronic pain to my patients in the office but it was too complicated and it wore me out. That is when I decided to write, Back in Control. Patients would have a better understanding but there was no action. The website, www.backincontrol.com was the action plan and evolved into a self-directed process that allowed hundreds of people to break free from their chronic pain. The DOC Journey is the next rendition of the program. But the healing process begins when you begin to use methods that stimulate your brain to change. During the last few years of my practice I would ask patients to simply begin to learn and use the basic tools as quickly as possible and the rest of the concepts would fall into place. This is the first lesson of The DOC Journey.
The nature of chronic pain (mental and physical) – sustained threat vs. safety
The essence of chronic illness, including chronic pain, is your body’s reaction to sustained stress because it responds with profound elevations of stress hormones, metabolic activity (rate of fuel consumption), and inflammatory markers (destroys invaders and your own tissues). The result is many different disruptive mental and physical symptoms.
The solution lies in learning the tools to create sense of safety, which normalizes your body’s survival fight or flight reaction. Successfully implementing these strategies causes a shift your mood, pain, and other physical symptoms. I am suggesting to dive in and begin using some of these basic foundational strategies right away. Why wait?
Neuroplasticity is a term that describes your brain’s capacity to change its structure. You can form new connections, grow cells, increase the insulation around the nerves (myelin), and shift from unpleasant to pleasant circuits. Your brain physically changes in shape and structure based on programming.
As you learn strategies to regulate your body’s responses to stress, you have regained control, which creates safety. There are many ways to accomplish this and with repetition the process becomes automatic. It is like an athlete or musician attaining a high-level of skill. It cannot be done by just reading a book.
Let’s begin with these core strategies – Now
- Begin expressive writing. It is the one mandatory step to start. People can improve without doing it, but I have rarely seen people go pain free without engaging in this exercise. It has been documented in over a thousand research papers to be effective in creating significant shifts in multiple organ systems. (1)
- Practice active meditation. This involves placing your attention on a physical sensation for five to ten seconds as often as you can remember. You are switching to neutral or pleasant sensory input which causes less of a reaction in your nervous system. It requires minimal time and effort.
- Adequate sleep is critical. Lack of sleep has been shown to cause chronic pain. (2) With a multi-pronged approach, restful sleep can usually be achieved within 4-6 weeks. Medications may be needed for a few months.
- Never discuss your pain or medical situation with anyone except your medical providers. The solution for chronic pain lies in rewiring your brain around your memorized pain circuits. Your nervous will develop and evolve wherever you place your attention.
Why should this program work?
An important early step is to acknowledge and embrace your skepticism. Why should this DOC Journey work? You have been bounced around, promised relief time and time again, undergone failed interventions, and your pain is worse than ever. There is not any reason to think that this is going to work. I agree. In fact, primate research has shown that you can induce a major depression by repeatedly dashing hope. (3)
Every treatment offered in this program has been well-documented by decades of deep medical research; implement what is already known. I have watched well over 1500 patients break free from chronic pain and not only regain their life but thrive at a level they had never experienced at any point in their lives. It happened by them learning and using this DOC Journey sequence that evolved from my experience coming out of severe chronic pain and discovering what was effective with my patients.
What is not helpful is “believing” in the DOC Journey or David Hanscom, using positive thinking, or affirmations. It is about connecting with your current reality, which is unpleasant enough for you to sign up for this Journey. You are rightfully angry, frustrated, and trapped. It is the starting point. Feeling and knowing where you are at allows you to learn the strategies that allow you change direction. One successful patient commented what you need is a, “suspension of disbelief.”
Anything is possible
The DOC Journey begins with acknowledging doubt, learning awareness, and allowing hope to re-enter. Research has shown that hope and optimism are anti-inflammatory. (4) There is a lot of hope in hearing about other’s successes. I am increasingly convinced you can stimulate your brain to rewire around almost any pain regardless of the source.
I got another reminder when a patient who I never personally treated resolved his pain largely through The DOC Journey approach. He is now in his late 60’s and had experienced severe pain for over 22 years. He lost his marriage and business, ended up addicted to high-dose narcotics and attempted suicide. During this period, he underwent 28 surgeries. He has not only been free from pain for over five years, but he is enthusiastic that he has not felt this good since he was 30 years old. Historically, I would never have thought that this was possible in light of the severity of his trauma.
Please acknowledge your disbelief, embrace it, start with using these basic tools, and you’ll learn as you go. Helping patients emerge from The Abyss of chronic pain has been the most rewarding phase of my career. I am continually inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit and I am honored to be a part of your journey.
Recap of Lesson one – “Let’s Start Now”
Healing your pain requires repetition of tools that simulate your brain to change (neuroplasticity) and calm down your body’s survival response. The sooner you can engage with these strategies, the quicker you can begin to heal. That is why you might as well begin to use them ASAP. You will learn more about the nature of chronic pain and the principles behind solving it in a logical stepwise sequence throughout the rest of the course.
The next lesson will expand on the concept of threat vs safety and then more detailed explanations of these basic tools will be presented as you progress through leg one.
- Pennebaker JW and JM Smyth. Opening Up by Writing It Down. The Guilford Press, New York, NY, 2016.
- Agmon M and G Armon. Increased insomnia symptoms predict pain among employed adults. PLoS One (2014);9:e103591. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103591
- Blum D. Love at Goon Park. Perseus Books, New York, NY, 2002.
- Dantzer R, et al. Resilience and immunity. Brain Behav Immun (2018);74:28-42. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2018.08.010