[00:00:00] Welcome to Move With Deb. I'm Deb, your friendly neuroplastician. And this is a podcast that explores the relationship between the body and the mind from a health at every size, judgment, free perspective. I teach you how developing a new internal conversation based on curiosity, self friendship and simple neuro-plasticity techniques can rewire your bodymind out of pain and emotional overwhelm to help you build the rich full life that you want to live. Disclaimer, this is not a replacement for medical care.
[00:00:50] Hello and welcome to Move With Deb the podcast. And this is episode 39, and I'm going to talk about being sensitized. So I finally listened to the ologies podcast about dolorology, which is pain with Dr. Rachel Zoffness and oh, my God y'all there were so many beautiful insights that I had that were breaking my brain.
[00:01:20] Boom, boom, boom, like seriously brain melting out my ears. I love that feeling, sometimes a little overwhelming, but the best part is it's a podcast. I can go back and listen to it. Link it in the show notes. And just know there is a lot of content in this one podcast. And from my point of view, this really could be like 10 different podcasts coming out of this one.
[00:01:47] And I think what I might in fact do is listen to it again and let that inspire some content for me to share. Because my favorite thing to do is like break down a lot of information into a way that you can metabolize it and practice it in your own life.
[00:02:04] So right now I'm just going to share this concept of being sensitized rather than being sensitive. So there's a lot of names for MINDBODY syndrome, TMS, neuroplastic pain, and one of them is central. I cannot ever say that central sensitization syndrome, I want to practice that I am a, I am a theater kid and like, you know, we always practice those kinds of Theater exercises where you say lots of words really fast.
[00:02:38] So I think I'm going to practice, um, central sense that central sensitization syndrome, central center, sensitization syndrome, central sensitization syndrome. You can see why it isn't popular because it's really hard to say. Looks great on paper sounds terrible coming out of the mouth. So central sensitization is a condition of the nervous system that is associated with the development and maintenance of chronic pain. When central sensitization occurs, the nervous system goes through a process called windup and gets regulated in a persistent state of high reactivity. That's an explanation, very short explanation from physio, pedia.com. And I will link to that in the show notes. There's a lot of information on the internet about our nervous system. Our brains always assessing our sensory input and then our nervous system is telling our brain like, yeah, this is important to pay attention to. This is dangerous. Right? Our threat reaction gets turned on. Maybe we go into sympathetic activation. Maybe we go into dorsal freeze, so lots of juicy, nervous system stuff that I really think is changing the way that we think about pain.
[00:03:59] So we have a lot of beliefs about pain. There's the belief that pain equals a problem in the body. There's the belief that we shouldn't expect to experience pain. And so if we do that alarm is being triggered, right? There's something wrong with me. I'm in danger. I did something wrong. That is a common one. I hear from my clients all the time, the belief that they caused their pain, that they are doing something wrong.
[00:04:28] And depending on like, kind of how their body is located in society. There's lots of messages about this kind of personal reinforcement of failure of their body. What situations are we in when we are in pain? If we have jobs that don't allow for time off or work environments that are exploitative or messages from our family or society about the presence of pain, are we believed that we are experiencing pain? So all of those things all get mixed in there in terms of like how we relate to the physical sensation that we are experiencing.
[00:05:06] I'm going to talk about sensitization in general and not attached to any particular diagnosis or identity, and here is why. When we think a trait is fixed, we have a difficult time creating curiosity around it. Creating curiosity that it even is possible for this trait or for this experience to be changed. Some people are just born with higher attunement for sensory input. So maybe you feel things deeply, or you have a higher arousal that comes on quickly. Maybe you are sensitive to sights, smells and sounds, and they are experienced in your body like pain.
[00:05:47] So I am working with a client right now on misophonia. The work right now is about shifting her self concept from being sensitive, to being sensitized and the pain that she feels in direct relationship to the distress around the sound and the anticipatory stress of what might happen when she encounters chewing she considers loud. And in my conversation with her, we found a number of reasons. Some of it is family history. Some of it is cultural that may explain why over time, the sound of someone else chewing became painful. So our conversations, I asked her, like, what happens when you're around somebody eating. And she says, I experience it as pain, her whole body just says yuck. Like she moves into this kind of. At disgust reflex. So she, one quick quickly gets anxious or feel shame. She also mentioned that she has a sensitive sense of smell. So we discussed that she can smell the garbage before her spouse. So sometimes like diaper smell is really intense, rotting garbage, spoiled milk. And one of the things I reflected back to her was your body is really good at taking care of you, that your body is highly sensitive to danger. It is telling you that these smells right. It's poop, rotting, garbage, which we don't want to be around. Your body is giving you a message that, that these things are dangerous and that you should know about them and that you should take action to get away from them. And so we talked about being sensitized to danger. So that it's not that she's sensitive and there's something wrong with her. It's just like her body's really skilled and highly effective at giving her these alerts. She enjoyed that framework. She talked about Hawks eyes are sensitive. We also looked at the distress and the anticipatory stress around these sensory experiences takes her from being sensitive to sensitized that the extra emotional experience around not wanting to feel the distress created the threat of the sensory experience. So over time she sensitized herself more and more and more.
[00:08:17] We had a conversation about, are there things that she tunes out. Right. We do tune out things all the time. We're human beings. If we experienced all of our sensory input, we would not be able to cope. We would be catatonic, like we have lots of sensory experiences going on in our body that we don't feel. So I asked her, you know, what are things that you tune out? What are things that you don't feel in your body? So like, lots of people don't feel their back unless they're in pain. I'll do this in massage, somebody doesn't feel something until I touch it. And then they're like, oh, I really feel that that feels like something. So there are ways that our brain turns the volume up or turns the volume down on sensory experiences. And until our attention is brought there, we literally do not feel it. So. I said, are there things that used to bother you that don't bother you now? And she came up with a list of things in only a few minutes. And I said, well, that is proof that the brain desensitizes us all the time. And so that's a skill that can be applied with intention for any sensory input. So you have the power to turn the volume dial down. You just need to learn how. And to learn how you first need to believe that it is possible for you to have control over that volume dial.
[00:09:45] Here's another example, here's kind of my personal example. And it's not even really about pain. It's kind of about emotional pain and, and sensitization. The other night I listened to a lecture that was both amazing and also full of some anti fatness and I'm annoyed and also recognizing the importance of desensitizing myself from my own reactivity and anger.
[00:10:11] So I can listen to the parts that are actually salient and useful for me. I go to these infuriating lectures, but at least I get to leave comments like how can you teach the same theory without villainizing fat people? Because it was a lecture on our metabolic system and dopamine, metabolic anything usually means be a dick to fat folks. And I will spare you the details. But so far I have not experienced very many lectures from people who do not have a health at every size framework to not have some kind of dig at fat people in a way that actually creates this very strong sense of other and separation, what they're doing is creating a separation of self and then that information's not creating a sense of wholeness with a person.
[00:11:12] I actually have a whole podcast coming about threat physiology and anti-fatness and sensitization. So that will be coming up soon. So in one helpful part, he discussed the concept of metacognition as a vehicle for healing in the way that it affects neuro-transmitters.
[00:11:30] And I've found that to be a cornerstone in my process with clients. And I'm just so happy that I've decided to attend and learn and be fully myself and translate these concepts, via my podcast, and my one on one work. It's fun to explore this shift from sensitive to sensitized, and working on desensitizing, even myself with my ability to listen to these concepts, even when I'm in a high arousal, sensitized, nervous system state, so that I can extract the useful information, without doing harm to myself..
[00:12:12] And being a part of a community, I think also helps me eventually leverage my ability to influence that community. And I'm choosing to do this on purpose. That is a large part of how we work on rewiring our sensitization is through our choice, choosing to be in relationship to the discomfort while we are rewiring it. On purpose for our own benefit. This concept of sensitization and desensitization with choice and agency really fits into this dynamic nervous system model. There are always like new ways to explain things, but I am really happy that I can contextualize my desensitizing process in a way that serves me, but doesn't harm me.
[00:13:04] I'm excited to work with my client about her misophonia. I had a previous client that I worked with around her headaches and her sound sensitivity, and the relationship between the sensitivity of hearing the sound, the anticipatory stress and the high emotional arousal. And a lot of what we did was just really slow everything down and create awareness.
[00:13:31] Awareness is the magical ingredient to this kind of mind-body process. And when we create awareness in a nervous system neutral way where we're not putting ourselves into high sympathetic activation or into very low dorsal freeze. We actually can relate to things that are happening in our life. And, and we, you know, we do that through titration. We do that through play. We do that through finding evocative language.
[00:14:01] As I was about to record this another client of mine sent me a message. We had started to work on their belly pain when eating dairy, uh, because they love dairy. So this is a high personal motivation. We picked this one thing that was going on in their body. Not just because it was like they wanted eat dairy, but because we wanted to work on their system-wide sensitization, but we wanted to choose something that also felt curious, pleasurable brought them into contact with things that they wanted, but we could work on those concepts that apply with any sensory experience and just practice it here. We're developing a set of skills that then can used globally. So why not start with learning something you really want to learn. You know, starting with like, oh, I really have a high motivation to eat dairy. Mmmm cheese! Yum ice cream. So we discussed all the mind beliefs about eating dairy and got all of those thoughts out of their subconscious mind, into the conscious mind.
[00:15:10] And then we created an experiment. And the plan was to eat dairy and to interrupt the brain's prediction, that it will create intestinal distress. Created that experiment like four days ago. And then I just got a message in slack that they ate multiple forms of delicious dairy and they have very little pain and their general digestion slash digestive tract seems healthier and feels better.
[00:15:36] So nothing else changed other than revealing and releasing the brain's prediction of what will happen when they ate a particular food, they created a prediction error and the brain and belly updated the program. Then we reinforce this new prediction through celebration and joyful reflection. So my message back to them included a lot of party emojis, because we want to reinforce that this was something created on purpose that proves this concept. It's not an accident. Just the other week there were a lot of beliefs and a lot of pain about having eaten something that caused distress, they ate the same thing, and some other things and experienced no pain and no distress, and then no symptoms.
[00:16:28] So how do you argue with that? Learning to allow pain, experience sensations or temporary physical experiences without the brain learning them. Right. Without the brain learning that, oh, yes, this is what we do now. So learning to allow pain, experience sensations, or temporary physical experiences without the brain learning them As well as creating what are called pain behaviors, which are conditioned responses that continue to reinforce the idea that relief comes from those behaviors without challenging the belief that the stimulus doesn't cause pain is the key to pain reprocessing.
[00:17:17] I like to pair bottom-up and top-down together, right? We can't resolve learned pain if we aren't aware of all the subtle coping strategies we've developed to help us when we're in pain. We also need to build reliable practices that affect change in the nervous system, so that the felt sense of safety can be believed. Otherwise we're only adding more stress and reinforcing distress by creating pressure, internal emotional pressure. So curious awareness, fun, targeted mind-body experiments can be a wonderful way to help the brain update our experience of hypersensitivity as well as honoring our tender selves that are experiencing distress, fear and anxiety.
[00:18:06] It's never about telling us that what we're feeling isn't happening, but it is believing in the ability that the power to affect change exists inside of us. And it is just a matter of finding the right key for this desensitizing lock. My teacher reminded me that boxers hit their fists on things over and over and over to desensitize them so that they can box. As a massage therapist my clients would always remark about how working over an area that felt sensitive a few times, made it feel much better, and the pain went down. The reason why that doesn't go away forever is that we have subconsciously trained ourselves off the massage table to look for pain and put a spotlight on it the moment you feel it return. But we can extrapolate from that experience of having pain and the strokes of the therapist, changing the sensory experience of it, this is the process of desensitization. When we are in burnout or overwhelm, it can be hard to just jump right into this.
[00:19:15] So let's look at the body mind as a whole or our life as a whole. How are we responding to everything around us? Are we in a state of high alert and reinforcing that distress subconsciously. So at some of this process, it's important to pull the camera back and see the whole as well as zooming in to what's hurting. Whole body pain states like fibro that's a central sensitization issue.
[00:19:45] So whether you experience emotion strongly or sensory input strongly, we can entertain the idea that no matter what we've been told about our body turning down, our threat response to sensory input is possible. I have done this work myself. I used to think of myself as a highly sensitive person.
[00:20:08] Uh, I've seen it with other neurodivergent people with ADHD and autistic folks that I work with. So I want to just frame that sensitization are things that happen in all people. And the other thing I want to say is that pain is a part of human life. There is nothing wrong with feeling pain.
[00:20:35] The belief that we should never experience pain is what is wrong. Pain medication is proven over time to sensitize us to pain. There is a ton of research that talks about how taking opiates regularly. One, the effectiveness of the opiate diminishes over time. And we need more of that pain medication, but because the system become sensitized to pain, mainly because we don't teach our nervous system that is safe to feel. Same thing with emotional distress.
[00:21:12] We don't teach our mind body system that is safe to feel, and we don't learn how to feel strong emotions. So when feeling pain is not distressing, we quiet our nervous system reaction to it. And our brain learns that we aren't in danger. And then we don't need to maintain this kind of threat alarm connection going.
[00:21:40] And we do this work by starting small. We talk to our brain. We learn how to allow discomfort. We practice updating our brain's prediction through outcome independence and doing things we want to do as a treatment method of desensitization. I hope this information is helpful. I hope it opens up a sense of possibility for you that even if you don't know the entire journey, how to get to the end from the starting point, at least you believe that this journey is possible for you.
[00:22:18] The willingness to start and the ability to create a relationship with curious awareness is maybe one of the most important skills to learning, to reprocess our sensitization to pain and sensory input. That is mind, body healing. That is healing, our nervous system. There are many methods that can work, but they all really have to start with a belief that it is possible for you.
[00:22:55] And I just, will never stop telling you that it is possible for you. No matter who you are, no matter what size you are. No matter what is going on in your life that we can learn and start to build the skill for experiencing your sensory input and your sensory experiences differently.
[00:23:17] And that's what I've got for you today. As always, I will be sharing more of my thoughts and beliefs on my podcast and the work that I create with my clients. If you feel emboldened, go off and create an experiment for yourself. And, please feel free to share it with me. Follow me on Instagram at move with Deb. I'm going to start working with new people again in the new year and, and look forward to connecting and sharing more. And I hope you have enjoyed this podcast.