Taming Hypervigilance in Chronic Pain

Woman breathing outside

How can we be less vigilant about the aches and pains? That’s an interesting question. I love that question.

So here’s the key. We must start with the nervous system because that’s where hypervigilance lives – in the nervous system. When we’re hypervigilant, the body is telling us that the stress response is out of balance.

How do we bring the stress response back into balance?

This is why we use conscious breathing as a healing practice. The breath is connected to the nervous system through the vagus nerve. Remember, the tenth cranial nerve, the vagus nerve, is in the lungs, as well as all organs that are up in the face, the throat, and the nose, and all that the organs. So, we leverage these characteristics of the breath.

The state of the breath informs the rest of the nervous system about the safety of the whole mind-body.

A conscious breath taken consciously, slowly, and deliberately will stimulate the vagus nerve and has a calming effect. Conversely, when the nervous system is hypervigilant, the breath automatically is rapid and shallow because the brain perceives that the whole mind-body is under a threat of some sort.

Develop a daily breathing practice

The way you calm that down is as you take a long deep breath, with the inhale as long or longer than the exhale. You might take three minutes of consciously breathing like this. This breath pattern will send a signal to the nervous system and the brain through the vagus nerve that it is safe, and the threat no longer exists. You will feel the body start to relax now.

Please Note: We do NOT hold our breath when we are trying to move from a state of hypervigilance to calmness.

I had a habit of being hypervigilant. This is how I lived for a long time because of how long I lived with chronic pain.

The thing is, we do not do this long, deep breathing practice one time. If you have a habit of being hypervigilant, it will take daily practice over time to rewire the brain into a calmer state of being.

So, practice sitting quietly for three to eleven minutes, breathing long, deep breathing each day. You will help tone and regulate the vagus nerve when you do that.

Use long, deep breathing when you feel tense during the day.

Another helpful way to reset the stress response from hypervigilance to calmness is to breathe this way when you notice yourself tensing up during the day. When you feel yourself react and contract at certain things in the environment, pause what you’re doing and go right into five or six long, deep breaths. You will feel calmer after five or six of these breaths. You will also have rewired your habit of reacting like that so that you will not be so tense the next time you encounter that stimulus. This is how you can change the habit of hypervigilance into a state of ease. Every time that old behavior pattern asserts itself reassert yourself with conscious breathing and give the nervous system something else to do. It will find a new way to live. We’re shifting the nervous system on a fundamental level.

People ask me: “How can it be so easy? Just breathing?”

I reply, “I get it! You’d think they would teach this to kindergarteners, right?”

A conscious breath is foundational to healing from unresolved trauma in the body that leads to chronic pain.

In partnership with The Wellness Universe, Elizabeth Kipp is offering a 12-part course, “The Way Through Chronic Pain: Tools to Reclaim Your Healing Power,” on the first Tuesday of every month through May 2023 from 6 pm-7 pm (EST). This course is based on her book and my journey of healing over forty years of chronic pain. A pay-what-you-can structure supports this donation-based flex course. Donate upon registration, during sessions, or at your convenience, as you experience the transformation you seek to live your best life—free seats for those in need. If you’re interested, please .

Elizabeth Kipp is the author of The Way Through Chronic Pain: Tools to Reclaim Your Healing Power. She is a Chronic Pain Management Specialist, Addiction Recovery Coach, and Ancestral Clearing Practitioner.

Connect with Elizabeth Kipp on The Wellness Universe and walk away feeling better!

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