While a diagnosis of a health condition or disease can feel like the answer to all your questions, it’s normally just the beginning of an often long journey back to health!
This journey involves not only figuring out what to do, but also dealing with our emotions about our illness.
And sometimes living with a chronic health problem can just feels like a lot. It can be so tiring and stressful.
Sometimes it’s hard, and there’s no denying the reality of what you are experiencing.
Can it be OK for you to have days like these?
Can you forgive your body and the inability to do what you would like?
Mindset as the Foundation of Health
In my field of Functional Medicine, we often discuss how health is built on the 4 pillars:
- Stress and rest
- Movement and exercise
But these pillars of good health are all built on the foundation of our relationship with ourselves, our illness and our environment. Mindset gives rise to our psychological, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Thinking about it logically, we need to see ourselves as worthy and important enough to be the focus of our self care. Without this self-care and self-worth, we just won’t devote our time and energy to doing what is good for us – we just don’t care!
We can know what to do, but we still don’t do it. Often I see clients like this. They know what is good for their health, or have supplements that they know help them, but somehow just don’t don’t take care of themselves!
What’s going on there?
For some reason, they may have never learnt how to care for themselves or lost that ability. They are often so focussed on caring for their friends and family, always putting others first, that they don’t focus on themselves and their needs. This can be due to their upbringing, with adverse childhood events and childhood trauma, having a profound impact on our ability to care for ourselves and heal.
Gabor Mate, in his book ‘When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress’, talks about how a person’s inability to say no and to set reasonable boundaries can lead to a stifling of expression and the development of chronic disease later in life. Mental and emotional well-being is the ground-rock on which the other pillars of health can be built.
Mindset Techniques for Dealing with Illness
- Ask ‘Am I looking after myself?’ – This is particularly important for people with low self esteem, or who tend to focus almost exclusively on the well-being of others rather than themselves. We can neglect to do the things that benefit ourselves and our health. There many simple things we can do but often forget to, and so it can be useful to ask if we are really looking after ourselves as best we can.
- Give yourself the chance to grieve a change in life circumstances – Developing a sense of acceptance for the changes in your way of life, associated with health issues, may be helpful. There may be things you loved to do that you can no longer, or you may constantly worry about your health and how it’s affecting those around you. These are all valid feelings and squashing them down isn’t going to help. Knowing the exact why of your illness may not help either – Accepting the present moment, taking responsibility, and then working to improve your health is the way.
- Forgive your body, love your body and yourself – Bodies are not perfect, but they do their best to protect you! What may appear to be annoying symptoms may just be an appropriate response by the body to some sort of threat (e.g. the Amyloid plaque that has historically been blamed for Alzheimer’s may actually be a protective mechanism against infections, inflammation or toxins). The thing is, the body sometimes get confused or take things too far: Auto-immune disease is a good example. Your immune system is doing its best to defend you from something (a stressor) in your environment. It has some then got confused and is now attacking your own self tissue by mistake (through a process called molecular mimicry). Forgiving yourself and your body for what can seem like a betrayal can be quite transformative. Focus on what you can still do. I found the movie ‘Heal’, available on Netflix, to be quite inspirational in this regard.
- Set small specific goals – Your life is not over! But you may need to re-adjust what you aim to do. Setting yourself small goals to do specific things can be helpful. It’s also helpful to set a timeframe for the goal. E.g. This morning, I’ll go for a walk around the block.
- Gratitude journaling – The act of recognising and expressing gratitude has been linked to many social, psychological, and physical health benefits. Writing specific things you are grateful for in a journal daily can help your mindset and wellbeing.
- Focus on the things that bring you joy and a sense of purpose – Do the things that make you feel like YOU! That you enjoy and bring you passion. Things that you used to do or new things that fit with your life now. What gives you a sense of purpose? Maybe it’s growing vegetables, or connecting with family or friends you haven’t spoken to in a while.. Spending time in nature can be helpful.
I hope these mindset techniques are helpful to you. As always, let me know how you go. Mindset and emotional and psychological well-being provides the bedrock for the 4 pillars of health, which are foundational to regaining your health.