The Mind-Body Connection
I have had a lot of hospital visits over the last year, following a couple of diagnoses, for two autoimmune diseases (AS and psoriasis).
Autoimmune diseases occur when your immune system becomes over-reactive and your body attacks itself, thinking that a part of you is “bad”. Even though there is no cure, I was offered immunosuppressive therapy. Immunosuppressive therapy lowers the response of the immune system, so as long as you are under this treatment, it makes the symptoms disappear. However, as it essentially lowers your immune system drastically, your immunity is reduced in response to every other “normal” event that might happen in your body – such as a cold or an infection – making it a lot more difficult to heal and recover from other illnesses.
I have been fortunate to receive excellent care from world-known specialists in London at Guy’s hospital and I am forever grateful for this. However, what this has highlighted for me is that in modern/Western medicine, the psychological/emotional aspect of an individual isn’t addressed (or even assessed) – at most, in my experience doctors have said “could be stress” – without going in much more detail than that.
This is not a criticism to modern medicine which is absolutely essential to the functioning and well-being of society. However, I have become increasingly interested in taking a more holistic approach to my health and trying to understand how my physical symptoms might have an underlying connection to my emotions as well - rather than looking at them as physical symptoms that happen independently from my emotions.
The more I researched this, the more it made sense.
Your body is an intelligent organism that doesn’t “just” become ill.
I have started to resonate with the concept that illness is often an emotional imbalance, that shows up in physical symptoms.
Think of a simple example: do you ever get a stomach ache when you feel fear or anxiety? Or a migraine? Have you ever had a cold after a period of emotional stress?
I invite you to consider at least conceptually, the possibility that our symptoms can show us where there is an imbalance or an emotional need that we haven’t yet addressed.
Have you ever experienced a crisis situation when you felt you couldn’t “afford” to feel all your emotions and your body went on autopilot? For example, after an important loss or difficulty in your life, you still went on with your work, house and family duties, and didn’t offer yourself time to process?
Ever notice how after a long period of stress, you finally go on holiday and all of a sudden, you get ill? You might think that you're "so unfortunate" that you got ill just when you finally got to enjoy some time to yourself. But in fact illness shows up not when our body is in the peak of stress, but when we give ourselves the opportunity to relax. It's like telling our body: "Okay, the stress is over. You can take the steps you need to recover now, and express the things that I've bottled up while keeping you on autopilot."
What do you think happens with the emotion when we ignore it and go on autopilot? This is a rhetorical question, because you might have become aware that the emotion lingers on, and if we don’t give it attention, it keeps showing up over and over. If we keep ignoring it, it often shows up in the form of physical or mental symptoms, because it has no other way to get our attention.
What if in addition to seeking help from traditional medicine when you’re experiencing physical symptoms, we all spent a bit more time to understand the potential emotional causes for our ailments?
I have noticed from my own experience that my reactions to physical symptoms have been similar to the reactions I’ve had in the past towards emotions I’ve labelled as undesirable.
Whenever I’ve felt fear, jealousy, resentment or self criticism, I tried to push that emotion down and reject it, as if I don't want to accept it as being part of me. In the same way, I noticed how I’ve rejected the symptoms that my body showed me, and resented myself for being weak or vulnerable.
I would beat myself up for my physical symptoms or stress/fatigue – this is my inner critic in full blast, telling me how I’m weak and I need to work harder and do better and get my shit together. It was very difficult to pick myself up and allow myself to feel these less than desirable feelings or physical symptoms.
Could we – instead of pushing down/rejecting our physical symptoms or numbing them with drugs – decide to be grateful that they are showing us that there is something within us that needs our loving attention?
Could we be grateful for how intelligent our body is and how it communicates with our emotional body to give us the signals when something wants to make us aware of opportunities for growth?
I am currently on a journey of exploring alternative medicine approaches, combined with talk therapies to help me better understand the underlying reasons for my physical symptoms and learning more about our innate ability to heal ourselves.
If this concept resonates with you, here’s some further reading I recommend on the topic: