By Helene Cooper, LCSW-C
For the sake of clarity, let’s define wellness as the absence of disease, with disease defined as ‘dis-ease,’ that being anything that removes the mental, physical, or emotional ease we need to lead happy and productive lives. Dis-ease comes into play in many ways, and it’s a typical “chicken or the egg” conundrum, with stress as an aggravating factor, either before or after the onset of illness.
In Western medicine, doctors treat symptoms with medications developed to eradicate or ease the symptoms we present as our acute or chronic complaint. Eastern medicine uses herbs and acupuncture in much the same way, but with an added focus on restoring balance to the whole system, a holistic approach designed to maintain health as the norm. Current medical practice is incorporating more ideology from Eastern medicine, recognizing the need for preventive and holistic care, and increasing our awareness of how stress and illness interact. Many doctors acknowledge the link between the messages transmitted between the mind and the body that can affect our symptoms and our ability to heal and be well.
Barbara Hoberman Levine’s book, Your Body Believes Every Word You Say: The Language of the Body/Mind Connection cites many examples from cardiologists, endocrinologists, oncologists, and psychotherapists who have helped their patients develop mindfulness about how their thoughts and feelings can both mirror and trigger the onset of health problems. She writes about “seed thoughts” that can set us up for illness, sabotaging our potential for balance and health.
If we pay attention, we will hear ourselves using language with powerful metaphors. “I can’t bear it.” I can’t stand it.” I need a break.” “I need this like a hole in my head.” “that breaks my heart.” “My back’s against the wall.” I’m backed into a corner.” I’m sick of it.” These “seed thoughts” are easily linked to bodily sensations of pain, muscle tension, and weakness, and often reflect feeling burdened by life. Your body listens to your mind, and if you feel you have too much on your plate, your emotions can trigger the thought, “I can’t bear it”, which can sometimes manifest as back, knee, hip, and shoulder pain. Utilizing the concept of the body/mind connection, it may be helpful to self-monitor your internal conversation with yourself, noticing when thoughts and symptoms mirror each other. During periods of illness or pain, it is an essential aspect of healing to practice self-soothing through deep breathing, listening to guided imagery or relaxation CDs or audio books, and using positive self-talk, telling yourself, “I’m going to be OK”.
If poor health is a stressor in your life, your first line of defense is always working with your doctor for physical relief. In addition, you might consider adding self-care practices such as yoga, meditation, and exercise. Incorporating counseling and/or joining support groups will add another level of self-care, and can also help you to develop a holistic healing arsenal of self-awareness, positive affirmations, and positive self-talk.
Don’t underestimate the power that your thoughts can have on your physical and emotional well-being. Listen to what that voice in your head is saying and be well!
By Helene Cooper, LCSW-C, JCS Therapy Services
JCS’ licensed and experienced mental health professionals help adults, children, adolescents, couples, and families address life challenges, find solutions for emotional well-being, and maintain a healthy perspective on life. Learn more at jcsbaltimore.org/emotional-well-being.