Illness never just affects our bodies; our minds are sucked down into the spiraling vortex too. Moods seem to darken when a health crisis is brewing. In fact, one of the symptoms of a heart attack is “a sense of impending doom.” On the other hand, our minds can have a powerful impact on recovery. There will always be aspects of our health that we can’t control. But if we get control of our minds, our bodies often follow.
Clinical hypnosis is a medical therapy used to treat people with chronic pain and anxiety. It helps patients learn how to use mind power to lessen suffering. This treatment works even with the crippling pain of rheumatoid arthritis or cancer. How? Our emotions can turn even a molehill into a mountain, and hypnosis can lessen a patient’s emotional reaction to pain. It’s surprisingly effective.
Another technique that has been long used to control pain is Lamaze breathing. Any pregnant woman who has taken these classes knows how powerful the focus on breathing can be in handling the intense pain of labor. About a year after I learned Lamaze breathing, I was in a serious riding accident up in the mountains. A slipped saddle threw me from a horse at a full running gallop and left me broken on the ground. My riding buddy had to leave me there alone and go for help. It was nearly three hours before they got an ambulance up to me. Luckily, I remembered the shallow panting technique of Lamaze used in the final stages of labor. After help arrived, and I was finally safe in the ER, I stopped the panting and took a deep breath. When I did, the pain was so intense that I lost consciousness.
Gaining control of your mind is not just important in a crisis — it can also prevent a crisis. Stress wreaks havoc on human health. Initially, the damage that it causes is psychological, but chronic stress impairs our body’s ability to regulate inflammation; this is a major factor in accelerating the development of disease.
What can you do to control your mind?
1) Take a deep breath. The next time you are agitated or tense, notice your breathing. We have a natural tendency to constrict breathing when under stress. This is great for controlling extreme pain, but over the course of everyday living, it cuts our oxygen supply and saps our energy. Try making each exhalation twice as long as the inhalation. The focus helps direct your mind away from stress.
2) Meditate. Take a class or try an accredited online video guide. Hint: A blue light bulb gets you to the alpha stage more easily and the color is soothing.
3) Exercise. Just as the mind can affect the body, the body can affect the mind. A workout increases circulation, boosts endorphins and strengthens the immune system. Keeping a regular exercise routine is clinically recognized to help control depression. Over time, workouts can increase longevity and stabilize both physical and emotional stress.
4) Get enough sleep. No one thinks clearly or has a relaxed, positive attitude when they are sleep deprived. Your body does most of its repair work while you sleep. If you don’t sleep, you can’t heal.
5) Eat better. Sugar and junk food not only wreck havoc with your mood and metabolism, cancer cells thrive on it too. If you want your body to perform well in healing, you have to feed it something it can use. Would you put sugar in a car’s gas tank? Not if you wanted it to run! Yet we think nothing of clogging our own fuel lines with it. If you are ill, the right nutrients help your body regenerate faster. A naturopathic doctor or nutritionist can speed your path to recovery.
6) Don’t let fear control you. If you hold it in, it can become a monster. Share your thoughts with a therapist or a support group. But a word of caution: Beware people who don’t understand what you are going through. They may mean well, but they can be idiots. They give empty assurances, slather you with sympathy, or urge you to suck it up and soldier on. None of this is remotely useful. Talk to people who understand because they’ve gone through it, too. They will give you tough love when you need it and offer an arm when they know you just can’t walk. Which brings us to:
7) Reach out and be part of a supportive community. It can save your life. We are born alone and we die alone, but we live together. We can help each other. Knowing that you are connected, that there are people in this world who deeply care and have your back, is worth its weight in health insurance.