When I started experiencing health problems one after another as a young woman- the pain of endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts, thyroid disease, digestive issues, and chronic back and body pain – I remember feeling betrayed by my body; feeling like I was in a war against it to make all the pain and dysfunction stop. I wondered what I had done wrong, that my body was letting me down so profoundly.
But over the years, I began to understand why it’s important to meet chronic pain and health issues with LOVE, instead of staying too long in anger, disappointment, or especially fear. That’s not denying those emotions – instead it’s acknowledging them and feeling them, because they’re normal reactions, but then moving through and beyond them to love.
Is that easier said than done? Probably, but it’s a choice we can learn to make in many small moments, until it becomes a part of our walk through life.
Stuck in Fear
When I look back I see that so many of my reactions and decisions were driven out of fear: What does this pain mean? Will it ever get better? Why is my body so weak? What if I get an even worse health condition? What if I can’t have children? Who will want me in this state?
All the “what if’s” and disaster thinking was me trying to get some control so I could protect myself from anything worse happening. Guess what – that didn’t work! There were times I spun myself into a greater state of worry and then my symptoms would really dig in.
Exactly how can our emotional attitude affect our health? “Our thoughts and emotions have widespread effects on bodily processes like metabolism, hormone release, and immune function, … One theory is that when you’re stressed or depressed, cortisol levels increase, making your immune system less able to control inflammation…”1
In a previous blog I quoted an explanation of how negative thoughts can create a chemical chain reaction in the body: “When you bring negative attention to a body part… Pain sensitivity is enhanced and you propagate a pain cycle at the level of your spinal cord. Vessels constrict, which causes decreased nutrient and oxygen delivery to the cells and increased buildup of waste products. The PH of the tissues is decreased and muscles go into spasm.”2
That description really brought home to me that I could choose to look at my body as the enemy, and feed into the dysfunction, or I could choose to make decisions to love my body, as it was, in the pain, and to listen to its messages.
A chronic pain expert made the statement in an interview that every part of your body is in love with you, and health issues can deliver some of these important messages:
• Your lifestyle is not supporting your health – that could include food, sleep, exercise, and stress
• You need to dig into genetic issues that are causing problems
• You need to slow down
• You need to resolve emotions that have been avoided
• You need to reconnect with your inner self
If we’re ignoring those messages we might make choices that take us away from healing – that could be choosing foods that don’t support our healing; not exercising at all because we’re afraid we’ll hurt ourselves and have more pain; isolating ourselves from social activities because we don’t like explaining our health struggles; or staying in stressful or unsupportive friendships or relationships because we’re afraid to change. We make choices out of fear of what we will feel or some perceived consequences.
Choosing to Love
What does it look like to make choices not out of fear, but out of love for yourself and your less than perfectly functioning body?
If you know that every bite of food gives your body information at the cellular level, then you choose nourishing and healthy foods that support it, and also eat your food in a state of gratefulness and enjoyment.
If you have negative relationships that are escalating your stress or draining you, think about whether you may need to put some boundaries and space between you to protect your energy.
If you have a schedule that’s so full of commitments, and you’re looking after everyone else in your family first, make sure to schedule alone or quiet time for yourself every day, to get in touch with your body and recharge, and do whatever it takes to protect that time.
If you have a pain flareup, instead of giving in to the feelings of depression or frustration, take that time to rest, have a luxurious bath, breathe deeply, watch a funny movie, chat with a beloved friend – anything that will give you some moments of pleasure or relaxation.
If you’re overwhelmed with information about your health and you’re trying to go it alone, choose to invest time and resources with a trained professional who can guide you and make that burden lighter.
When I would have a flareup I would be ready with my pain relief tools to “fight it off” mentally and physically, so I could get back to what I was doing as fast as possible.
Now, instead of fighting the pain, I acknowledge it’s there and take it as a sign that my body is telling me it needs a little more care and attention. So I try to slow down and tune in to what’s been going on in my life and whether I need to make some changes. I give my body better nutrition to heal. I choose to hold more positive and hopeful thoughts.
And I tell my body that even though it’s not perfectly healthy all the time, it’s mine and I love and am grateful for how far it’s taken me on my journey. I tell it that I know it’s working all the time to heal, as long as I don’t forget to choose love and not fear.
1 Adam Hoffman, Can Negative Thinking Make You Sick?, Health Magazine, June 26, 2015
2 Dr. Kim D’Eramo, The Mind Body Toolkit, (Woburn, MA: Global Medical Innovations, LLC 2013) P. 126