Three Alternatives to Meditation for Calming the Nervous System and Reducing Pain Signals
Last updated: October 2021
Our pain is very, very real. It’s not all in our heads – but it is in all in our brains. All pain, regardless of the source, is made in the brain.1-3
The nerves in our bodies fire off a signal to the brain when we are injured or threatened, and the brain decides whether to make pain or not, and how severe it should be. It does this based on a number of factors, including how safe we feel.
For the brain, safety is pretty black and white. Stressful email? Unsafe. Rushing to work? Unsafe. Worried about money? Unsafe.
So in short, stress is seen by the brain as a threat to our safety, which can heighten our pain response in order to warn us of danger.
Have you ever had an endo flare after a bad day at work? Or did your endo symptoms worsen after a particularly difficult time? It may be because your nervous system was on hyper alert and responding with increasing sensitivity to your nerve signals.
Thankfully, there’s a lot we can do for about this. Essentially, we want to calm the nervous system down with message of safety. Meditation is one of the best ways we can do this4, but many people struggle with meditation and find it difficult to stick to.
As a health coach, I’m always experimenting on myself. Thankfully, due to managing endo now for a number of years, I rarely have endo pain, but I do have a rather complicated case of interstitial cystitis - which is very common with endo - and mine is in part down to an upregulated nervous system. I mediate daily, but I’ve also been trying out some other activities too. I wanted to share a handful with you today, in hopes that if you struggle with meditation, they may still provide you with an opportunity to feel calmer.
Yes, really. Whilst doing this work, I one day just really wanted to try a puzzle. It seemed to me like an active form of mindfulness and after a quick Google, it turns out, it is! It might not seem the most exciting way to spend your time, but a puzzle on a Sunday afternoon with a hot drink can be a wonderful way to pause the busyness of your mind and focus on one simple, calming task. In fact, there are now even puzzles dedicated to mindfulness, with calming scenes of beaches and wildlife. I prefer a Harry Potter puzzle myself, but whatever works for you!
Tapping, also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, is similar to meditation but is very active, so helps for those who often get a wandering mind. During a tapping session, you tap on certain points of the body, whilst repeating certain statements. This helps to take us out of flight or fight and calms the nervous system. In fact, tapping has been shown to reduce cortisol levels by 24%, depression by 41%. and has been shown to significantly increase or even totally alleviate symptoms of anxiety and PTSD.5 I like to use the Tapping Solution app, they have a great tapping exercise on feeling safe that I really find calms me down quickly.
Walking in nature
Walking in nature might seem an obvious one, of course hearing the birds and walking through pretty scenery is calming. But it actually goes a little deeper than that! Twenty to thirty minutes walking in nature on a daily basis can significantly reduce our stress hormone, cortisol.6 In fact, forest bathing as it’s commonly referred to, can even help lower feelings of depression and improve overall wellbeing.7-9
Which symptoms are you experiencing the most this week? (Check all that apply):