A conversation about hidden pain, emotions and women’s health with Brandy Priest
In this interview, Laurie and Brandy Priest discuss A conversation about hidden pain, emotions and women’s health as well as what emotions can create physical pain and how to process emotions.
Brandy is a life coach for women and specializes in pain coaching. She help women live with more joy and less pain. Her career started in physical therapy where she was clinically trained in the treatment of chronic pain. Now as a mom of two, Brandy has taken that knowledge into her own life coaching company where she helps women bridge the connection of their mind and body. She help women to handle the pain they can’t control and eliminate the pain they can.
This is a transcription of an Instagram live conversation. You can find the full video on Laurie’s IGTV tab on Instagram and on soon on YouTube.
I’m here to talk with Brandy Priest today. We’re going to be talking about the hidden causes of pain, emotions and women’s health.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
Sure. I’m a life coach and I specialize in pain coaching. I have a background from the medical field and I was clinically trained on how to treat pain and chronic pain management. When I had my second child, I decided that I wanted to be home more. So I got really interested in the science behind pain. That led me down the path of life coaching a little bit more. So I thought, why not merge the two?
Now I’m doing pain coaching as well as life coaching. The merge of them is really just that pain coaching is taking the neuroscience of pain and how clinically we would treat pain, what it means and all that. And then combining that with your thoughts, because about 80% of chronic pain is really initiated from our emotions more than it is from our actual physical ailment.
There’s all kinds of studies on the fact that you can have disc issues and rotator cuff tears and have these injuries and live with them your entire life and never know. But some people still have pain from them due to extra things in their life. They’re a little more heightened or a little more sensitive to those pains going on.
That’s not to say that if you have a disc issue or a rotator cuff that you are only feeling pain, if you have an emotional situation, but there’s things that make you a little more predisposed to them.
So you work with women to help them discover these hidden causes of pain. So tell us a little bit more about your story or where we’re going.
So a lot of times when we’re looking at emotions and pain they can be caused by things. Some of them are very obvious to us.
The most common one that we see is having a really stressful day and you go to sleep kind of clenching your jaw. You’re holding that tension in your jaw. A lot of times you’ll wake up with a headache.
Even at work when you get really irritated or really mad, you’re clenching your jaw and you get that headache after a while. That’s an example of how our emotions are causing us to do something that’s increasing our pain.
So the mental emotion: I’m so angry, I’m so frustrated or I’m so mad gets reproduced in our body as stress, anxiety, anger and all of that. So our physical bodily response is to clench our jaw.
A lot of times you’ll hear of tension in the neck where people always raise their shoulders. A lot of that is tension or insecurity. We try to protect our neck region. So we all raise up our shoulders to protect that area of our body in response to us feeling a little uncomfortable, a little insecure or just feeling a little tense.
Those are the kinds of things where people assume, “Oh well, I’m getting headaches and it’s due to stress,” but they don’t take that one step further to figure out that they’re getting headaches, because they’re hunching their shoulders or because they’re clenching their jaws.
People don’t take it that step deeper, which is where the life coaching comes in and that mental awareness of asking what’s causing the root of our stress. It’s very easy to say that it’s because of your coworker, boss or family. But what is it specifically about your family or that situation that you’re in that is causing stress?
There’s a lot of stressful situations that we can be in which we’re not having a physical and emotional response to.
In the clinic, we saw a lot of hip stiffness or pelvic pain especially in women. It’s because as women we might feel a little bit limited or a little bit stifled and a little bit blocked.
We think of the hips and that region as creativity, flow and ease. The best example that I can relate this to is dancing. If you think about dancing, you’re moving your hips, you’re relaxed, you’re being creative, you’re enjoying yourself. When you get that outside pressure or even just pressure you’re putting on yourself, you kind of lock that down. You don’t really move as much through there.
When we don’t have movement that equals stiffness. So we always say movement is lotion, it’s joint lubrication, it’s that type of thing.
So if you’re not moving, you tend to get very stiff and you tend not to use that area. And that causes more problems and repercussions down the line for more painful symptoms.
Interesting. Kind of like movement in your body creates movement in your life.
Yeah. That’s literally how a lot of our joints actually get nutrients. So for the knee, for example, in order to replenish the fluid and the nutrients in our knee, we have to bend and flex it. That’s how it absorbs and releases.
So when we’re not walking regularly and we’re complaining that we have a stiff knee and you go to your physiotherapy or your PT, a lot of times the first thing they’ll do is put you on a bike to just get things moving, because without that movement, things really lock down and stop working properly.
Yeah. It’s also tied in with the lymphatic system.
Yeah. There’s a study about thermal imaging, which is basically heat mapping for the body. So they took this big machine and put people in it and had them feeling a certain emotion and then they imaged them and found that certain images were aligning with the same emotion over and over and over amongst different people.
It was really fascinating, but some of them are just like you would expect: happiness was warmth throughout the torso and the head, embarrassment was warmth between the cheeks and the neck area, but also cool in the arms and legs.
So they started looking at things like depression and when somebody was really sad, you could see cold all over their body, as well as decreased electrical impulses. Electrical impulses are what sends messages to our nerves, brains and our body.
When we have that sense of depression, they’ve been able to clinically show us that depression literally slows down the conductivity of your body and it brings your body to a cooler temperature.
But it’s also very similar to our stress response. We often hear people tell us that they are really stressed. About two weeks into a high level of stress, they suddenly end up sick. That just shows how our feeling mental emotions leads to physical ailments.
For women, I always like to give this example: let’s say you have a bad hip or an old sports hip injury and you go to work and you have a really stressful day at work, traffic’s really bad driving home, you get home and maybe the kids or husband are asking what’s for dinner. The second you walk into the door and there’s a sink full of dirty dishes. A lot of times we attribute hip pain on a day like that too, “I’ve had so much going on. I’ve been on my feet all day,” and that type of thing, but our bodies remember things.
Our body remembers we have an old injury here. We’re in a state of stress. We need to remind her that she’s had this whole old injury and she’s more prone to reinjure that area. We need to protect that more. Our body’s way to protect that is to send us those pain signals. It’s our body’s natural protective mechanism.
A lot of times when your pain is heightened, it’s heightened because it’s trying to tell you something and it’s trying to let you know that you’ve got this situation going on. When you don’t address it and you don’t go seek medical attention, that’s when your body turns it into a chronic pain situation and you end up with pain for longer than three months.
On top of that you end up with extra issues after the original diagnosis. I always caution people that you don’t want to go to the doctor for every little ache and pain that you feel, but sometimes when we think, “I’m fine. I’ll just tough it out.” You’re actually doing more damage than anything because your body is trying to talk to you. It’s trying to let you know, “Hey, let’s be proactive and get this taken care of, because this is an issue.”
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Absolutely. I use the saying if you listen to your body, when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream. It’s this idea of your body always giving you signs and signals like subtle pain, so that you can settle it before it gets to being a chronic condition.
Absolutely. Coming back to that women’s health area. A lot of times, we see people not wanting to address pelvic pain or not wanting to address their hip pain or the tension they have in their neck, because they’re too busy and they’re putting everybody else first and they have a million things going on.
They think that as soon as they take care of all those things, then they’ll take care of their pain.
You see a big push nowadays to fill your cup first and to make yourself a priority. To a certain extent, it’s really true because unfortunately we get to the point where we’re sacrificing ourselves and sacrificing our health to try to take care of someone else.
Then you eventually get to a point where you can’t take care of someone else, because you’ve sacrificed yourself for so long that now you are the one that’s requiring the attention, the help and the needs.
If you address it early, it might be one doctor’s visit. The longer you wait, it might be 10 doctor’s visits. Maybe instead of working with a life coach and getting an emotional situation addressed up front, you may need therapy for your husband, your kids and yourself, because the relationship has been so damaged from a lack of addressing the situation.
Yes. I’ve seen that so often. So you’re talking about the physical part, but can we go back to the emotional part? I’m so curious about the emotions creating physical pain.
Shoulders are always a really big one, especially with women. There are two general philosophies when we think about shoulders. Whilst sitting we often round foreward and that usually comes from two different areas.
We either round forward, because we’re feeling weight and pressure on us for whatever reason, sometimes it’s just life. It’s that emotional baggage that we’re carrying with us. So it’s just letting go of a lot of what we’re holding on to, to release that pressure.
Working with a life coach or a therapist can help. I like to say it’s similar to getting a massage. After an hour you stand up and you feel amazing.
The other side of the shoulders and that rounding inwards often comes from trying to make yourself feel smaller. It’s trying to protect your heart. If you have breathing issues, thyroid issues and that type of stuff, you’re kind of pulling everything in and collapsing everything in on itself. That’s not giving it room to actually function the way it’s supposed to, because everything’s pulled inward.
It’s that anxiety that you’re kind of turning inward, the depression, the weight of the world, getting you down type of symptoms.
A lot of times you will see breathing problems, especially if a child has been stifled at a very young age. A lot of times they’ll have childhood asthma and that type of thing. This is not to say that if your child has childhood asthma, it’s solely because they’re turning inward or they have an emotional situation. It’s completely normal to have an anatomical situation as well.
But a lot of times when we’re pulling everything in, that anxiety and trying to feel small is what causes a lot of extra symptoms physically.
So we’ll go to physical therapy or physio, because our neck hurts or our shoulders. Maybe we’ve been thinking about moving or thinking about switching jobs, or we have an underlying issue with a spouse or something like that.
A lot of times we kind of try to protect ourselves from those things. It’s just a natural instinct to protect our front. So when someone shouts at us we feel that instinct. If we were just to address that underlying issue of, “Hey, when I hear this from my boss, these are the emotions that I start to feel in my body. And this is what I need to tell myself,” because we can tell ourselves and we can choose to accept certain thoughts as facts or not.
So when we tell ourselves that our boss is upset, there’s something that they’re upset about. It’s not something that you are necessarily doing. Reassure yourself that you’re okay and it’s not your fault.
If you place your hand on your heart and you can kind of do both hands, but if you do that and kind of talk to yourself by saying, “I’m okay, I’m safe. I am not in immediate danger.”
It actually releases the same chemicals in your body as if someone was giving you a hug.
So it’s a really great way, when you’re feeling insecure, anxious and that type of thing, just to step back and take a moment and say, “I’m all right. I’m not going to get eaten by that lion. I’m okay.”
Take a step back and have a moment for yourself and kind of sit with the emotions that you’re having and give yourself that time to come out of them.
Especially as women, that’s another thing we do, we like to just, “Oh it’s about emotion, I’m going this way.”
Or we buffer and tell ourselves that we will deal with that later. Instead right now we focus on millions of things. That does more damage in the long run, because we’re not addressing that problematic situation.
So when we were feeling a little bit small already, we didn’t address the situation. Then the next time that situation arose, we got that little bit smaller. Our body remembers where it was and our body remembers how it felt.
So we assume that our body is just our body. It’s just the vessel that we live in, but our body reports everything to our brain. Our brain is remembering everything that happens to us in every situation and how we felt in that situation when it happened. It’s going to relive those things. Our brain is like an unsupervised child. If you give it free reign, it’s going to do whatever it wants. A lot of times, what it wants is to give you whatever thoughts and whatever emotions you’re going to spend the most time and energy on.
Those are usually the ones that are unknown and unexplained. Our brain asks us if we remember this or that and eventually we start spiraling.
So when we experience pain in our neck, hip or somewhere else, we need to start taking a moment to see if we have something going on emotionally. Really pause and connect to that. If you can honestly look back and say that you can’t think of a single thing that you were feeling right then that would be upsetting or emotional in any way. That’s your body telling you, it’s time to go see somebody medical. You got something else going on and it may be time to talk to somebody about it.
When a situation brings up old emotions, how do you suggest to best handle that?
That’s a great question. We process every emotion differently and every person individually will process emotions differently. Usually in stressful situations, that’s your fear response. That’s your immediate fight or flight.
The very first thing that I always tell everyone to do is breathe. You want to actually take a normal breath in and then a long, slow breath out. You want to keep repeating that. The long slow breath out is actually the key, because that slows down your central nervous system, which is where that fight or flight response is produced.
So when you’re having those big emotions: anxiety and stress and fear, bringing that back down to your normal resting level of, “I don’t need to flee from danger and I don’t need to fight someone off to protect myself. I’m okay.”
Just really ground yourself with your breathing first and foremost to bring that response under control. Once you start to feel that response, let go a little bit. That’s when you can try other things like the hand on the heart you can try things like reminding yourself that you’re in the present.
A lot of times our fear lives in our future. We think about things that could happen or we think about scenarios that are going to happen in the future.
We stress about them, because our brain’s job is to protect us. So it’s going to come up with everything it possibly can that could possibly go wrong and be the bad situation that we don’t want.
By bringing yourself back to the present of saying in this moment right now, “I’m okay.” So there’s other things that people do, depending on person to person the senses of bringing your awareness to where you are.
So reaching out and touching something and really getting in contact of what it feels like, really focusing on something and concentrating on what that one thing looks like.
What do you hear? Kind of reactivating all those senses.
What’s in your mouth? What do you taste?
Those are really great grounding techniques just to bring you back to the present and really focus on right now, like telling your brain, “If this happens in the future, that may happen, but what’s happening right now in this moment? And what can I control right now in this moment?
Once you come back down and you’re relaxed and you’re back to a normal level, go back to what your brain was asking you. So take those moments to kind of just answer those what ifs, because eventually you realise that your situation isn’t that bad.
So just take a moment to feel the emotion. Then breathe to reset the body and reset the nervous system. Does that also release the emotion?
So releasing is going to be kind of different from everyone.
What you really want to do is sit with the emotion, you want to feel it. A lot of times when we feel sadness, I explain it as like a big, heavy sweater. Maybe you’re just going to wear that big, heavy sadness sweater for the day. That’s okay. You can still go about your day and do all your normal things and be sad. There’s nothing wrong with it.
A lot of times we think, “Oh, we’re sad. I have to do something to make myself happy again.” You don’t have to do that. In fact, the more that you push that sadness away, the more that’s going to bubble up to the surface eventually.
So just sitting with it and allowing yourself to feel that sadness. The best way to process emotion is to just go through it.
The more you do that, the more aware of it you become. You accept it too, some days you are just a little sadder and that’s okay. You just go through the day like that.
I love that. So when, so when you’re working with women who have chronic pain, you start with addressing emotions?
So I actually usually start with the pain and that’s because usually I let the client pick a little bit, because sometimes they will come to me and say, “My pain is ruining my marriage.” Other times they will come to me and say, “I’m having a lot of pain and I because of the pain, I’m really angry all the time.”
So it’s kind of whichever route they would like to focus on first. If I have a preference, I steer them towards that pain a little bit, because they have to understand their pain and where it’s coming from and why it’s doing what it’s doing in order to take that next deeper step.
We think of pain as outside of our control. We think of it as something like I hit my toe.
So addressing those pain situations first, what triggers the pain and what the pain feels like. Then figuring out what kind of movement or what kind of exercises or stretches your body needs to kind of combat some of those symptoms. But also look at the more emotional. So the woman that comes in and says, “I’m in so much pain it produces so much anger.”
I try to explain that a lot of times you’re going through the stages of grief. We don’t acknowledge that having pain and having an injury can trigger the grief cycle. So we go through this stage of denial. “It doesn’t hurt. It’s not that big of a deal. I am fine. I just need to get through it.” A lot of times that cascades into, “Okay, I’m going to finally go to the doctor.” Then we get our diagnosis and it turns into, “I can’t believe this has happened. This is coming out of nowhere. I have no idea where this is coming from.” But if you look back, you had signs and symptoms, but you ignored them. Maybe had you gone in sooner, you would have been able to treat that issue. At that point, we need to accept the issue. There’s not much you can do.
The stages can be triggered at any time and don’t have to follow in any specific order.
I remind people all the time that pain is not something you’re going to totally fix. It’s something that you’re going to continue to work on.
I love this. This has been fascinating. Thank you.
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information — we’re all wonderfully unique.
Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT
Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and board certified health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.
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