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Exercise and insomnia/anxiety

Discussion in 'Support Subforum' started by Hormiga, Apr 17, 2014.

  1. Hormiga

    Hormiga New Member

    Hi everyone... new writing to the forum. I have for the most part cured my most serious TMS back pains (6 years worth) over the last year with the help of books, journaling, and 11 months now of TMS psychotherapy, but have had tons of anxiety since. The most acute back pain I had for over a year that was MRI'd and diagnosed as low grade spondy in L5/S1 actually disappeared within the first few weeks of therapy, and most of the RSI-like upper back and neck pains that i always thought were work related began to go as well. Im about 75% pain free I would say. I still get flare ups weekly when under stress, and sometimes inexplicably: the body pain also happens conversely when my anxiety subsides. Symptom imperative still works strongly. Knee pains have come up out of nowhere in my sleep, and upper back pains will still pop up when I'm stressed at work. I now know that all of this is TMS. I accept the diagnosis 1000 percent. We have pretty much determined that stress and anxiety have caused my TMS, and then TMS has served to create more stress, anxiety, insomnia, and pain. I have all of the TMS traits, and have read all of the Sarno books, Steve O., Sommer Anderson/Sherman, this forum up and down, etc. and see me all over the pages. I repressed emotions for a long time, shutting down almost completely for a year during the worst of it, and I still have not been able to really feel anger, though I have had a couple instances of having it come through. Usually in therapy, as soon as the question of "does that make you feel angry or how does that anger feel", some protection mechanism comes in and shuts down my anger almost immediately. I know I don't feel anger when I should, though I got a glimpse of what it feels like a month ago. As far as repressed emotions go, I don't know how much more searching I could do in therapy. Ended a six year relationship and a six month relationship after that (that I have known as a friend for six years) over the past year. Stressful. The health problems/anxiety were a part of those not working on my end, though I realize and am confident that I was not fully to blame solo for those relationships not continuing.

    The pains would always migrate and even subside on vacations in the early days. I have experienced a laundry list of symptoms outside of the acute pain...fibro-like and chronic fatigue-like symptoms, insomnia, hormonal problems from lack of sleep, tested/diagnosed/treated for adrenal fatigue and then retested and undiagnosed. I tried every holistic physical modality of treatment you could think of weekly for years upon years including PT, trainers, accupuncture, chiro etc. and luckily was never recommended surgeries from doctors, as the pains were usually moving around. I would always make a bit of progress and then "throw out" my back a month later in PT or under strict supervision somehow, usually in a different place.

    My biggest and so far undefeated problem is this: I have been unable to exercise and sleep well afterwards for the last two years. Even before knowing about TMS I had this as a main symptom on and off . I typically experience insomnia/anxiety to an extreme level on the nights after I exercise, mostly after not even breaking a sweat. If I really go for it and sweat, the insomnia/anxiety is scary and the sleep won't come.

    I recently went on vacation out of the country for five days, and was able to do some daily light exercise and sleep pretty well by ignoring the anxiety symptoms. It is the best i have done in over a year. It is possible. I still was in FEAR of breaking a sweat or overdoing it, though I kept telling myself that the mild anxiety would go away and that I would sleep. I did. Unfortunately, I have been unable to sleep as well now back in my regular routine. The exercise tends to make me feel especially calm for a matter of hours, and then as I'm approaching bedtime, anxiety/alertness/insomnia kicks in hard, and no amount of meditation can calm it down. I typically will sleep maybe 3 broken hours total over the course of the night after I have exercised. I get a very metallic taste in my mouth followed by constant sleep interruption and anxiety. The anxiety continues on into the following day.

    Being as this has happened for 18+months straight, I have tried almost every combination of varying intensity/rest/meditation/affirmation/thinkable: challenging it by continuing to train the next day in spite of no sleep, as well as resting a couple days and going for it again. Have tried resting for weeks at a time also, but experience the insomnia and anxiety as soon as I start back.

    6 months ago on vacation I tried to power through 10 days of daily surfing, thinking that the symptoms would break if I just kept going, but they did not. I broke first after being filled to the brink with intolerable anxiety, but i was also reliving through a lot of emotional pain and trying to search for and bring to consciousness any repressed emotions during that trip. I have tried months straight of mantras, affirmations, EFT, brainwaves, meditation multiple times daily, multiple months of abbreviated work schedule, intentional loss of income to heal, etc. My problem has been that I DO fear this insomnia, as the symptom just becomes too intense to conquer. Exercise is the one thing that has helped me to keep what I now realize was always, and still is now, anxiety in check, so I don't know what to do. In all of my TMS readings, exercise is the common denominator to recovery. I can't find any TMS text that doesn't specifically advocate full resumption of physical activities as part of a recovery formula. Has anyone experienced this and successfully beaten it?
  2. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi, Hormiga. Some people like Steve Ozanich can play golf or exercise and ignore the pain, while others
    find not thinking about the pain doesn't work for them.

    Dr. Sarno says try to do some exercise, but if you hurt, ease up on that.

    Don't associate insomnia with TMS pain or you will condition yourself to it.

    There are some very good techniques to getting to sleep. My favorites are:
    Deep breathing
    Repeating a relaxing mantra: "Every day in every way, I'm feeling better and better."
    Count from 100 to 1 backwards slowly. Keep your mind focused on the counting.
    Do it twice or three times if necessary.

    Don 't watch tv or action movies before bedtime.
    Try to spend at lease an hour relaxing, meditating or listening to relaxing music,
    before bedtime. If you mind is too busy and occupied with worry, calm it down.

    Just relax and not worry that you aren't going to fall asleep. You will.

    Relieve your anxiety by deep breathing, meditation. Keep positive and try to find
    things to laugh about or make up the laughter. Laughing reduces anxiety and stress.

    Let me know if any of this helps.
  3. Hormiga

    Hormiga New Member


    Thanks so much for the quick response! All of these things have helped in the past, and I'm sure I will continue to use all of the above for the rest of my life. I guess what Im really curious about is if someone on the forum has experienced this symptom set specifically: this insomnia is not happening with pain associated, at least not as of the last year, and I am able to fall asleep by using the tools you mentioned. What happens is repeated waking every hour and unable to find a calm in meditating. Have been meditating daily for a couple years now, and it feels different when this exercise anxiety/insomnia occurs. I get no pain now from working out, only anxiety and insomnia. I guess I might try another round of just" going for it" daily and see if the anxiety and insomnia just gives up. The pain has for the most part subsided. Will try again to break the conditioning mechanism as you mentioned.
  4. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    That's the attitude. Try exercising again, this time telling yourself it is not giving you pain.

    I find that few things last forever, except a dog's love.

    Our pains, anxieties, etc. come in cycles. Eventually they go.

    Don't look at the clock when you're in bed. If you wake up and see it's only 2 am and
    you were awake at 1:30,
    it's real hard to fall asleep again.
  5. Tennis Tom

    Tennis Tom Beloved Grand Eagle

  6. Hormiga

    Hormiga New Member

    On my vacation a couple weeks ago I slept between 6-9 hours straight, or I would wake and be up for ten minutes or so, go back to sleep, and felt great. So its really hard to ignore being awake for hours and not have the "something is wrong" thought enter my head after a couple hours of consciousness. I've been going at this exercise and anxiety thing for two years straight (730 nights in my crazy TMS mind!) and have found it impossible to not react to the the increase in anxiety and dreadful thoughts that come with this insomnia. Knowing how good I feel everytime when i wake up after sleeping 8 hours ( only a couple weeks out of this past year) imprinted in my mind the idea of what i read as "should be happening". I associate sleep with happiness and lack thereof with sadness and despair. . I'm on day 5 of trying to decondition myself to stop reacting to exercise with anxiety and insomnia, and I've found myself sleeping 5 hours progressively down to just 2 hours last night. Yeah, I looked at clock after waking up fully. I still have yet to tell my mind that sleeping two hours is okay. If it was okay, wouldn't I just start my day at 4am after going to bed at 2am or 1am after going to bed at 11pm? Why would I even start meditating, counting, progressive relaxation, etc.? My mind knows that sleep is a good thing, and it knows that anxiety is a bad thing. I don't feel like I am choosing this anxiety that happens after exercise...it just becomes so strong that dreadful/worried thoughts pop into my head. I have a hard time ignoring the change in appetite/lack of focus/shakiness/wired but tired feeling that comes with no sleep so I don't know if I'm going to be able to break this pattern or not. I guess I can go out again today and try and exercise, and just get up when I wake up in the middle of the night.
  7. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hormiga, are you awake so much because your mind is so active?
    That can happen to me, and so I practice deep breathing and distract my mind from the unpleasant thoughts
    by thinking of pleasant ones.

    What do you do an hour or two before going to be? Are you watching television, especially something exciting?
    Or are you spending an hour or two with calming thoughts, music, or meditation?
  8. Hormiga

    Hormiga New Member

    Warm shower and then meditation for an hour. I fall asleep no problem feeling calm.
  9. Tennis Tom

    Tennis Tom Beloved Grand Eagle

    Did you read the BBC article I linked to? Just curious if you did what you though of it?
  10. Hormiga

    Hormiga New Member

    Yeah. Interesting article. I definitely like the idea of four hours sleep followed by another full four! I will try to not get so frustrated when I wake up in the middle of the night and am up for a long time....Just view it as natural?! I find that I sleep almost straight through without anxiety symptoms on vacation, but am awake in the night with them in real life. My TMS is now all about anxiety and insomnia and very little pain. I definitely have experienced this 4/4 more when I go to bed earlier, as in 10p-2a/4-8a; I work at night, often until 12.30a so I ideally need a 1.30a-8am or later to feel good, without a break.
  11. Mtngal

    Mtngal Well known member

    Hi Hormiga,

    This is a classic example of what Dr. Sarno called "symptom substitution": you get rid of or have very little pain, and wham! - your mind now creates anxiety as yet another distraction from whatever is bothering you or being repressed. He gives an example of a woman who got rid of her terrible back pain. She then came to her next appointment with him saying she now had intense anxiety and that she almost wished she had her pain back!! You need to let go and accept your healing and then you will be able to sleep again. In the meantime, they say that if you do wake up, don't just lie there, read, or get up and do something. Also, the fact you work late into the night probably has a lot to do with your insomnia. You are going to bed and your mind is still stimulated. Try Yoga or deep breathing. Maybe you need to look at changing your job, it's worth your health. Have you tried any medication to help you sleep? I know you don't probably want to get hooked on sleeping pills, but at times in our lives, they have their place. Also there are other things like over the counter sleep aids and antihistamines that can help sleep.

    Keep us posted!
  12. Hormiga

    Hormiga New Member

  13. AndrewMillerMFT

    AndrewMillerMFT Well known member


    I'm so sorry to hear about your predicament. Just reading your story and responses, I'm left with the significant impression that the exercise/sleep issue is doing exactly what it's supposed to do - namely - keep you focused on that! Forest can tell you this but one of my favorite sayings is, "The way we attack our TMS is often why we have our TMS." I wonder if that idea is particularly apt in your situation. I get curious if all the work you're doing to address this exercise/sleep issues with meditation, challenging, etc... is only contributing to the pressure on yourself (and the underlying emotional pain and rage that pressure stimulates!).

    Instead of seeking affirmations about TMS or challenging your sxs, what if you took some time to affirm you (YOU!) and your struggle. Is it possible to show yourself some compassion by taking the pressure off exercise/sleep. Maybe take some time off exercise, for awhile, or even use some medication for sleep, for awhile. You can always return to challenging, addressing the exercise/sleep issue, but maybe even taking a small break will help. Maybe "pausing" will allow you to address it with a little less pressure.... and that might help.

    It's easy for me to say this not experiencing the pain and suffering that you're in (though I had my own bought of TMS/insomnia - and it was a MOTHER!) but I do want to just offer you an alternative way of examining this situation. Instead of addressing the TMS right now, maybe just addressing or attending to the pain of how much pressure you might be putting on yourself to get rid of it would be of help.


    Andrew Miller, LMFT
    Anne Walker and Ellen like this.
  14. Hormiga

    Hormiga New Member

  15. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hormiga, I agree with Andrew Miller that you may be working too hard on your TMS
    and that can cause sleepless nights and pain.

    I hope you can take time off to do things you enjoy. Distractions can relieve our pain,
    take our mind off of it. And especially find something you like and that relaxes you
    an hour or two before bedtime. Hot herbal tea or hot milk is good while you let your mind
    relax and slow down.
  16. Hormiga

    Hormiga New Member


    You are right! The symptoms are working! I have taken medication for sleep before during this process, and I will on occasion still so so in dire straights. I have found it also serves to put me in a state where I can't feel my feelings. I feel out of touch with my true self, and I, like many TMSers, am sensitive to meds. I imagine I could spend time searching for different medicines, starting up a new quest. Reading up about everything online etc. That would be TMSing too probably. I feel like even "trying" to get better is somewhat TMSing.The insomnia/anxiety keeps me from feeling life too. I just took a couple weeks off exercise, and started back last night with a fast walk and some push-ups. I haven't been on this forum for a couple weeks. Yes, I did sleep some, woke up in a nightmare, woke up really early after finally falling asleep pretty late, and am doing the best I can today in spite of not "feeling life" with this foggy head and anxiety.
  17. Hormiga

    Hormiga New Member

    I'm trying man! I know how to fall asleep even with anxiety... I just took five days off of work, and two weeks off exercise and TMS google solving. I definitely know about daily herbal tea and milk and chilling out at night: I haven't had caffeine in a year! I watch dumb movies or read boring books. I listen to silly music. I have worked significantly less since 2012 than ever in my life. But geez these symptoms are so good at doing their job...and the brain fog makes it tough when going back to work.
  18. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    I've had the same foggy head and anxiety. I practiced TMS and journaling found relief from back pane and
    new peace and forgiveness but there are days when I still get the foggy head and anxiety.

    The two best reliefs I find are in deep breathing and also laughing. Laughing helps me to remember
    the foggy head and anxiety are not fatal. They come and go and if i relax more or laugh more, they go away faster.

    We are imperfect people in an imperfect world. We need to remind ourselves that we're doing the best we can.

    Watching dumb movies and reading boring books are great ways to lead up to a good night's sleep.
    I go to bed telling myself tomorrow is going to be a great day, and tell myself in the morning the same thing
    about the day I am starting.

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