Does your body hurt? Do you have back pain, knee pain, neck pain, migraines, Gerd, IBS, tinnitus, migraines, TMJ, or a combo platter of symptoms that seem to come and go for no apparent reason? Or, maybe you have one persistent issue, like back pain, that has lingered for years, yet the doctor tells you there is nothing wrong. A specialist may even have said there was something really wrong, a slipped disc, bulging disc, herniated disc, etc.; but, those conditions only cause 50% of their bearers any pain. The other 50% have no symptoms. If any of the above conditions apply, you may have something called Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS).
I was recently listening to an episode of the podcast “Like Mind, Like Body,” in which Dr. John Stracks was talking about his own experiences with Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS), also called Tension Myoneural Syndrome or Mind-Body Syndrome (MBS), all of which refer to how the body expresses something the mind isn’t comfortable allowing you to think or feel emotionally. Dr. John Sarno, Dr. David Clarke, Dr. David Hanscom and others have written about TMS for quite some time. Dr. Stracks was saying how he has noticed many of his patients start showing physical symptoms after a death in the family. But, it doesn’t necessarily have to be as momentous a shift in one’s life as the demise of someone close to you, it can be a job change, a move, a physical diagnosis, divorce, a history of trauma, or anything that takes a fair amount of emotional and psychological restructuring to assimilate. It may simply be a predisposition to unconsciously create physical symptoms when stressed.
TMS can manifest as almost anything: sleep issues, a backache, sciatica, neck pain, IBS, Gerd, migraines, tics, TMJ, palpitations, tinnitus, knee pain, pins and needles in your hands or feet, vision issues, numbness, sudden muscle spasms, or anything physical that stops you in your tracks and distracts you from feeling anger, grief, panic, or anxiety. Your body is simply processing something emotional and protecting you from what it unconsciously believes is worse: a flood of overwhelming disturbing or negative feelings.
One of the hallmarks of mind-body syndrome, is a rotating roster of physical issues. It’s like mind-body whack-a-mole. One day you might have Gerd, another day it’s a backache, next week it’s a migraine, next year it could be sciatica. To make matters even more complicated, some people find that when their physical symptoms abate they can be replaced by emotional issues, like anxiety or depression.
If you already know you fit Dr. Sarno’s pattern of someone likely to develop mind body syndrome, i.e.: you’re sensitive, generous, a do-gooder, perfectionistic, self-critical, have annoying physical symptoms, are hyper-vigilant about what’s going on in your body, and you have had a major life change, it might be a good idea to consider your physical issues psychogenic. This doesn’t mean you’re making them up; rather, it’s your unconscious mind creating a physical symptom. It’s helpful to understand your body is simply trying to help you assimilate a major life change or something else you might find disturbing or overwhelming. Of course, these mind-body symptoms do not always come from something so easily traceable. They might just show up when your unconscious mind is concerned you’ll be drenched in grief and it wants to preoccupy you with something it deems less bad.
When it comes to overcoming TMS, one of the most useful things you can do is to keep a written or audio journal where you honestly vent your deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings. Dr. Sarno used to say it was crucial to focus on your rage because people who are kind, nice, overly generous, sweet, considerate and perfectionistic generally have a tendency to not allow themselves to feel their anger to its full extent. In people with that constellation of traits and tendencies unexpressed rage can often turn into a physical symptom. The good news is: Getting in touch with your feelings, even ones you might think are unacceptable, can become safe and freeing. Simply writing about what’s going on in your life, including things you are unhappy about, allows them to move through you. It also lets your unconscious mind know you can handle feeling all your feelings.
Another aspect of moving through TMS into recovery is going against your symptoms by engaging in physical activity. Exercise is an essential component of healing from TMS.
Getting a good night’s rest can also markedly improve your stress tolerance. Going to sleep before you get a second wind is an effective strategy, as is not eating at least two hours before bedtime.
While diet can have a huge effect on your mood and stress levels, the most important thing to remember is to keep your blood sugar levels as constant as possible. This supports a more stable mood. The trick is eating regularly, not waiting until you feel hungry, and not skipping meals.
Reducing stress in your life is another game changer. Take the time to look at a your day to find areas where allowing yourself an extra five minutes to get somewhere creates a more relaxed and less rushed experience. That’s just one example of something simple that can have a big impact. You can also see where you make more work for yourself than necessary by saying yes to requests you might like to avoid. If that’s the case, a bit of assertiveness training can help you become more discerning about how you spend your time and set good boundaries.
When thinking of stressful events, it’s important to remember that positive life changes, like getting married, buying a house, starting a new job, or having a baby can also trigger TMS. It dosen’t have to be anger, memories of a traumatic childhood, or current annoyances.
Even though it feels counter-intuitive to have real pain and convince yourself it’s in your head and you’re really OK, this is the key to having fewer symptoms.
Of course, with each new symptom it’s easy to get scared and think, “This time something is really wrong with me.” I certainly wouldn’t assume that every physical malady is a symptom of TMS. Check out whatever ails you with a doctor. If you find you’re really fine, there is a cornucopia of techniques that can re-orient your thinking and allow your body to come back to a more peaceful, pain free state.
A huge part of overcoming TMS is constantly reminding yourself that nothing really bad is happening to you physically, quite a feat when you’re suffering with an intense migraine, unpleasant stomach issues, or what feels like debilitating back pain. Yet, that is what ultimately allows your body-mind to switch back to a symptom-free state. I like the mantra: Hurt doesn’t equal harm.
This is often a matter of re-training your brain, since a part of you unconsciously wants to create a physical symptom to distract you from emotional pain and while your conscious mind wants to get over the physical symptom and might be willing to feel the emotion. To make this even more difficult, you might also be aware enough to know you are grief stricken or furious at someone or something in your life; but, as Dr. Sarno used to say, there is a lot more anger than what meets the eye. This is why it’s so crucial to do the journaling, as it keeps you current with your emotional reactions to life.
Another important aspect of recovery is education. Current pain research is brimming with theories on how your brain creates pain. They are remarkably easy to understand, make sense, and help you see how easily you can re-orient your thinking. YouTube videos by Lorimer Moseley are engaging, fun and enlightening.
Meditation calms your nervous system and strengthens your ability to more easily switch from fight or flight reactions to rest and digest responses.
Don’t lose heart. Even though TMS can be a relapsing and remitting condition, in time, you can unlearn your pain. You might even welcome a symptom as a message from your unconscious mind to ratchet up your self care, create better boundaries with people, or start journaling and meditating again.
The good news is: There is nothing wrong with you. Even issues people have had for decades can suddenly resolve once the underlying psychological material is sufficiently acknowledged and you have been exposed to enough scientific information about the mind-body connection. At times, it’s helpful having a therapist on the journey, and an experienced body worker, massage therapist, acupuncturist. Not to “cure” you, but to support you.
I have suffered with TMS since I was a young teen. It has manifested in myriad ways, none of which I enjoyed. The body can be astonishingly creative. No matter how many times I’ve been scared that something was really physically wrong this time, almost everything has resolved with a combination of journaling, meditation, education, and going against symptoms by staying active. The Curable app and their Facebook community are incredible resources, as they put all these healing tools in one place. I have also found reading Dr. Sarno’s and Dr. Hanscomb’s books incredibly helpful. Like so many things in life, dealing with this is both a process and a practice. If you have TMS please be patient and compassionate with yourself.
Here are some useful resources:
http://www.curable health.com and the curable app
YouTube videos and books by Lorimer Moseley, Dr. John Sarno, Dr. Sarno’s 12 Daily Reminders, Dr. David Hanscom, Dr. Howard Schubiner, Alan Gordon, LCSW, Dr. David Clarke, Adriaan Louw.
There is a ton of free information and detailed recovery guides on the pain psychology website: http://www.painpsychologycenter.com.
Candace Pert’s book: Molecules of Emotion. An excellent scientific explanation of how the brain communicates emotional information to the body.
Podcasts: Like Mind, Like Body, Pain Reframed
Why Do I Hurt? A workbook by Adriaan Louw
This link will take you to a helpful graphic from curable.com:
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang