I woke up to a very sore throat in a hotel in a distant city from my home. It got worse throughout the day, even while I was surrounded (not too closely) by wonderful students. I flew home with a wracking cough (I’m sorry 24E) and have been on the mend for the past relatively sleepless nights and achy days.
So what does this have to do with the mind? There are so many connections between health and the mind, I’ll just touch on a few…
Dancing or Fighting?
I often liken the relationship between the mind and the body as an elaborate dance – with one leading at one point and another leading at another. Because I work with the mind, I often say ‘the mind is where the action is, the body is where the reaction is’. We can see this when people who are chronically stress tend to have lower resistance to illness, or that repeated negative feelings like anger or grief can cause negative organic changes. At the same time, our body can give cues to our mind that can take effect on our mental or emotional state. I’ve heard that improperly positioned chairs that force shoulders into a high position can be interpreted by the body as a stress reaction, and so people can feel stressed simply by the way they are sitting.
So what happens when we get sick? Is it a chicken or egg question? Maybe. Often people see a physical illness as more of a battle or fight than a dance. However, the interaction is very similar, even as the intention may be different. To fight with someone, there needs to be contact and exchanges. There needs to be a to-ing and fro-ing of interaction between one and the other. So, while more combatant than dancing, the situation is still collaborative.
I know that before I got sick I was preparing for the trip, flying, staying in a hotel shared by others. I not only was emotionally elevated in a foreign environment, but was also exposed to a lot of unknowns (people, lower temperatures etc.) Looking back, I’d say that the dance, or the fight, was equally matched. The ‘stress’ of movement may have lowered my immune system, and there was opportunity with unfamiliar germs.
Natural Occurrence or Personal Failing?
Academically, there is no shame in getting sick. However, the concept of sickness is, for some of us, layered with other ideas and models, many of which have developed over time.
I come from ‘sturdy stock’ – people in my family didn’t get sick much as I was growing up. Was it genetic, healthy lifestyle… a belief system that impacted the body to stay strong?
Whatever the reason, I know that I have taken a slightly unhelpful idea about illness with me throughout my life. I see it as a slight but personal failing when I succumb to a bug or virus that’s floating about. I have interpreted getting sick as something other people do, and I can accept them for it, but not me. I ‘should’ be above it all. Is this correct? Probably not. However, my awareness of this perception is actually a first step in helping me move through it to grasp a more helpful way of thinking and acting. Whenever we find ourselves with a fractured thought about the behavior or thinking of others versus ourselves, it may be a moment when we look back at our earlier influences and revise to be more current, or shift to a way that works better for us.
Day without Night?
A friend of mine once said that good health without illness would be like day without night. And while we light our life so often that we might not notice that it’s dark, we might take a moment to consider the benefits of getting sick.
When we get ill, this may be a way of forcing us to take a step back, to stop, or to shift directions. This is sometimes a message that comes to us through injury as well. We may need the time to heal that we don’t usually give to ourselves. Sometimes it might highlight something that we are doing, feeling or thinking that may not be supporting our multi-layered system, that may be creating a mental or physical virus within, that comes into our awareness when it is manifested in the body.
Illness gives us an opportunity to be amazed by the complexity and power of our own humanity. I was aware of my first line of defense in my glands; my coughs are an attempt to expel foreign bodies from my system; I can appreciate the ache in my adrenals as they work overtime during this bodily stress. Even as I am feeling sick, I know that my body is sorting itself out. And I remember to feel lucky that my body can move from night to day (even when the night feels like it will never end).
For Better or for Worse?
As you might imagine, I’m not a great sick person. But I’m getting help. When I’m feeling so ‘off’, it’s tough for me to remember self-care techniques – especially when I get ill so infrequently. It’s nice to have someone reminding you to take your herbs or eat some broth, or reinforce that it’s ok to go to bed early. Sometimes we need help from outside to get us through some of the low points in our lives.
When down times happen emotionally, sometimes it’s a good idea to get the help of someone else, whether it’s a hypnotherapist or a trusted friend. Self-care regimens can also be a great habit to develop and sometimes the moments when you feel your worst can give a strong indication of what you need to feel better. I know that a warm bath relieves me – I need to remember that when I’m not under the weather. I love doing my self-hypnosis – another habit that sometimes gets sidelined when everything seems to be going swimmingly. Take a moment and think about patterns or behaviours or thoughts or people that make you feel better – how can you increase that number of exposures in your daily life, even when you’re healthy?
I know I’m heading in the direction of getting better by the things that I’m choosing – one thing is that I’m writing which makes me feel better, and the next stop is to take a break and walk outside. Look after yourself in sickness and in health.