Welcome back to this short blog series about pain and FEARWORMS! The author is none other than my dad, Dr. Randy Hurst, PsyD, who specializes in the treatment of chronic pain and disability as well as alcohol and drug addiction. In Part 1, he introduced the concept of “fearworms,” and today, he’s going to tell us how to tame your fearworms. This is a fascinating exploration of the mind-body connection and makes a strong case for gentle daily movement… Something that, as you know, I heartily promote with FemFusion Fitness.

Dr. Randy Hurst, PsyD on Fearworms | FemFusion Fitness

Enter Dr. Randy Hurst:

Fearworms create distress, fear, and a sense of threat, which lead to feelings of loss, depression, and psychological pain. All of these distress the body in ways that can add to (or even create) physical pain.

The struggle is how to counter the fearworms.

I previously suggested that the first step is to realize the connection between fears about one’s pain, injury, loss, etc. to the “fearworms” and “thought viruses” that can take center stage.

The more you focus on these losses and pain, the more they take center stage — to the point of feeling out of control with your thoughts and feelings. These out of control, overwhelmed feelings are the seeds of what can become clinical depression. They can also interfere with change, thereby adding to your stress and pain.

To successfully tame your fearworms and change pain, you must focus on letting go of what you could never choose: your current situation, physical limitation, etc. Of course, I do not mean to give up. Rather, I mean to LET GO of anything that has already occurred, or anything that is beyond your control.

Then focus on something you can do. The best choice is to find something you enjoy, that can distract you, and with which you can absorb yourself. Allow this distraction (and better yet, absorption) to take center stage for a little while.

The pain will remain, but instead of being front-and-center, it goes off to “side stage” for a while.

What can you focus on?

  • Actively doing/making art or music can be excellent ways to absorb your attention.
  • Movement such as walking in nature, or dance (or dance-like movements) can bring you into the flow of the music and the moment.
  • Meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can be helpful for some.

Physical therapists and health and fitness coaches often employ these techniques. They gradually add movements that patients have been avoiding, but often indirectly or in ways the patient’s brain does not recognize. Physical therapists know that “Motion is Lotion” (as my daughter says).

Gradually increasing exercise helps reduce pain that was solely due to deconditioning. It also helps break through physical limitations by focusing on what the person CAN do, rather than pushing too hard, too fast to a goal that is not yet reachable.

The key is GRADUAL. The other key is ENJOYABLE.

A great example is a woman who became confined to a wheelchair, and ultimately learned to use the chair to allow even more freedom and movement than she ever thought possible, as can be seen in the video below.

The woman’s eventual success involved absorption, movement, creativity, and sense of self- improvement. She did not necessarily return to previous function, but had an improved sense of life and reduced sense of loss.

Accepting what cannot be changed but working on what you CAN DO, and figuring out what you WANT TO DO MORE OF, are essential starting points.

Actually making the changes and gradually working up to more of what your body can handle means working through intrusive fearworms, doubt, and the early pains and sense of not doing as well as you want. These discouragements are normal and natural, but — unfortunately — can lead to giving up or believing the worst.

Please understand the need to just keep doing and make slow progress rather than press yourself to progress at the rate you want (or the rate you used to be able to do).

Things are different now but some progress every week will get your body and heart to a better place.

The more we give in to the fearworms and thought viruses, the stronger they get.

The more we do what we can do, the stronger we get.

End of Part 2. Click here to return to Part 1 (Fearworms).