Sitting in the cold, sterile waiting room, she feels her stomach gnawing.
An urgency hits and she rushes to the bathroom, extremely relieved when she finds it is private.
What is wrong with me?
A message from her physician’s office the prior evening about her blood test has had her mind racing.
Oh my goodness, it must be something horrible if I have to come in person. Who will take care of my children if something happens to me?
It’s no wonder she barely slept the night before as she sees her fate lying before her and ponders what kind of funeral she wants.
After waiting, stomach growling because she was too nauseated to eat before her appointment, the physician assistant pops out and simply tells her that her routine lab results were inconclusive because they took too little blood. She needed to come in to submit another blood sample.
She feels an overwhelming sense of release over her entire body as her mind lets go of all the morbid thoughts it had been circulating. Her mind clears, but the gut niggles are the last of her symptoms to leave, and it takes another six hours before she feels the butterflies finally fly off to take residence elsewhere and her visits to the toilet lessen.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
To many of you, it will. It’s a classic example of how our mind and body health is intricately intertwined and how physical symptoms can be exacerbated or caused by a stress response in our body.
The very first stress symptom? Our thinking. Like gasoline to a fire, perseverating, jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, and every kind of “symptom-thinking” greatly increases our body’s stress ante.
While this particular woman may not have a gut disorder that is present enough to hold an official diagnosis, statistics tell us that you, dear reader, very well may have your own digestive issues.
Gastrointestinal diseases are known to affect an estimated 60 to 70 million Americans annually.
Left unattended, those symptoms this woman has experienced may eventually grate on until an underlying condition does develop.
The catch lies in the fact that if our stress level can affect the healthy mortal and give them gut distress, what does it do to those of us who already have an underlying gut issue?
The answer is: Wreak havoc.
And make no mistake friends, the stress response in our body that occurs when our sympathetic drive peaks like Mount Kilimanjaro is not only asking our gastrointestinal system out to dance. It loves to rumba and tango with our blood pressure, anxiety level, heart rate, endocrine system, and every other area of our health.
Having been diagnosed with a serious inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) several years ago, I personally have experienced that of which I speak and have also spoken with many cohorts and clients who have travailed this terrain.
My illness first showed itself as an entire life of right-sided dull pain. An ache. Periodic. Not well defined. At my gynecologist visits, I would mention it and they would start heading toward my right ovary.
A couple years before my diagnosis, having such a persistent reoccurring ache, I said to myself: This has to be something, and I may never find out what, unless it rears its ugly head and formally introduces itself.
That time came in 2009 when, during a particularly stressful time, I became acutely ill, losing 15 pounds in one week, in acute pain, extremely fatigued, with hips that were excruciatingly sore. I had a medical background and a physician for a husband. Being diagnosed with a serious inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) was the last thing we imagined.
But, come to think of it, that woman in the above scenario? She had been shades of me at times in my life.
Sparing you a play by play, when the big event hit, I was started on steroids, then IV treatments. At the same time, I sought out a Naturopath who was of the kind but clueless variety, having no experience with my particular variety of IBD. But I did get a lot of supplements and dietary suggestions thrown at me.
Finally, motivated to look as healthy as possible for a move overseas, I conducted my own research for options to treat my symptoms. Six years and boat loads of stress later, I have remained off meds for that same period of time and follow the map my body lays out for what I need in the moment.
Here are the primary tools that have worked for me:
- Breathwork: Conscious even breathing throughout the day and periods of utilizing a technique HeartMath calls “quick coherence,” with a routine 10 minutes of practice, morning and night. Simple. Three easy steps. Effective for resetting autonomic balance.
- Probiotic: Good bugs our gut needs because our modern lives have done an effective job destroying them. Especially if we are germaphobes. Even my specialist MD recommended a probiotic.
- Adjusting diet: My first step in my natural approach to my recovery was to strictly adhered to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) because I found so many success stories of people much more severe than I going med free after introducing this way of eating. Since then, the autoimmune paleo protocol has gotten huge and is very similar. The website’s name may fool you, but the mom responsible for this website is a research scientist who has used this for herself as well. She has a great book out, and I found her information invaluable.
- Fancy words: cognitive behavioral therapy. Real words: Keeping my thoughts based in reality and in the moment and challenging them when they start trying to run my life in a negative fashion.
- Mindfulness. I couldn’t be happier to be living in a time when there are unlimited resources on this topic. Early in my professional and professional journey there were not, and Jon Kabat-Zinn is who brought the topic out of the closet for me and whose work I studied and put into practice. Imagine me waxing lyrical on this topic, but read him. He rocks it home.
- Yoga and movement. My “dis-ease” is an inflammatory process and does not stop at my gut. Movement and stretching is ever so helpful. For me, yoga that is heavy on stretching the spirit and gentle on my body is the kind for me. (Note to self: Start noticing if you are having other inflammatory processes that accompany your gut flares, such as joint stiffness and soreness.)
- Balance. I know. The word is overused, isn’t it? But the delicate juggling of my spirituality, physical health, relationships, and overall well-being is a never ending game of life-Jenga, and I only aim to prevent collapse as much as possible. Of course, I fail frequently, but the fall is gentler because of an ongoing practice for balance.
- Embrace health. Think of yourself as healthy rather than ill. It is so easy to let my thinking attribute every symptom that ever occurs to my previously diagnosed condition. I have to stop and remind myself that it is not unusual to not feel 100 percent at times and assess my needs. If I spiral into overanalyzing every less than perfect symptom I have, my sympathetic drive will soon be revving in high speed with a guaranteed amping up of the underlying condition and causing other symptoms.
- Control your thoughts. Choose an inner dialogue that includes the concept, “I am inherently healthy,” rather than constantly feeding yourself negatives and creating an illness-identity: “I have _____.” Stop yourself when you notice your thoughts trying to predict the future, jumping to conclusions, and otherwise causing you stress.
Consider prioritizing yourself and maintaining an ongoing self-care practice that addresses mind, body, and spirit.
In my work with clients dealing with medical issues, the link between the mind and body has become irrefutable. Not to negate the need for addressing all areas of our health, but addressing our stress-full thinking, I believe, is the number one thing we can do for health enhancement.
Where our mind goes, our body follows.
Author: Becky Aud-Jennison
Image: Unsplash/Kalen Emsley, Wikicommons
Editor: Travis May