Stressed at work? Flat out with the kids at school? Holding on for your Christmas holiday?
So… how’s your health? In times of getting really sick or injured in your life, have you ever taken a moment to reflect on what else was going on for you at that time?
Underlying almost every persistent physical and mental health related issue is stress. There is growing body of evidence appearing in a number of highly regarded journals (JAMA, and follow this link for a meta analysis) indicating that stress is a massive player in a vast number of health problems that can be combated by a 'healthy lifestyle', and that a huge amount of disease and immune system dysfunction can be linked to an emotional situation.
To treat any form of physical health related issue, we have to look at what stress is present within the body and mind. Stress can take many forms. It can present physically as inflammation or pain. It can be mental or emotional stress or trauma. Stress is often related to diet and lifestyle factors. You will have heard numerous health professionals harp on about nourishing dietary requirements, water consumption, movement and exercise, spending time in nature and connecting with your loved ones. These are all incredibly valid tools for managing your stress and should be addressed when looking to treat your body holistically. However for the purpose of this discussion, I am going to focus more on how your thoughts and emotions play a role in managing your stress and therefore maintaining your health and well-being.
“The mind is everything. What you think, you become”
The power of positive thinking
Our thoughts manifest themselves within our physical bodies. Think about a time where you have been worried about something so much it has made you physically unwell. Perhaps you have had to speak in front of a large audience or built yourself up to have a confrontational conversation. The mind automatically starts to go through all of the things that could go wrong, which means that our sympathetic nervous system (the part of our nervous system that is involved with fight or flight) starts to kick in. This can create nausea, anxiety and a stress response. The stress response can trigger the body to flood with inflammation often causing physical ailments. The fact that you can activate your body’s stress response simply by thinking means that you wield tremendous power over your physical state in every moment. Moreover, it means that you can literally manifest disease, or healing, by thinking.
“A fundamental conclusion of the new physics also acknowledges that the observer creates the reality. As observers, we are personally involved with the creation of our own reality. Physicists are being forced to admit that the universe is a ‘mental’ construction.” - R.C. Henry, Professor at Johns Hopkins University.
Our thoughts are what create our feelings. Our feelings drive our behaviours and the choices we make in our lives. Therefore, in order to change our behaviours, we have to first change the way that we think.
Affirmations are a powerful way to reframe your mindset. “I am” affirmations in particular are the most potent. Did you know that our subconscious mind does not think in terms of past, present or future. If you affirm that you “want” something, then you get “the wanting” but you don’t really get the thing that you are wanting.
To get what you want, affirmations must be in present tense, such as “I AM happy” not “I want to be happy”.
Emotional well-being is at the core of our physical health. So, what are emotions?
Put simply, emotion is energy in motion. Moving energy.
If you zoom in on the human body, you will see that fundamentally, we are actually a whole bunch of atoms which are made up 99% space and light (photon) energy. Although we cannot see this with our eyes, there is actually no distinct line between where we end and where the space around us begins. This means that there is no real separation between ourselves, other people and our environment. So when we feel something, we are feeling energy moving within our bodies. This could be from our environment or it could be something we are feeling from another person. There are so many options.
More often than not though, instead of simply feeling an emotion, we push it down because we don’t want to be seen expressing that emotion. This means that it becomes repressed in our body and if not released, creates tension within our body and mind.
Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor states that “all emotions last for less than 90 seconds” and “if anything continues after that, it is because we have added our own story and chosen to hold on to the emotion”. Emotion comes and goes quite quickly and so if we are finding that we have emotion that is persisting, it is because we are choosing to hold onto it.
As a part of the work that I do as a Physiotherapist, I help people to learn how to sense and feel what’s sitting underneath the pain or symptoms that they are experiencing. And more often than not, it’s emotion. When the emotion is felt and expressed, the symptoms often go away (if the stimulus for the emotion is still there though, it’s possible that the physical symptoms could return). My work is helping people to develop an awareness of themselves somatically (self-awareness). The body acts as a messenger and the areas in which we hold stress are also the gateways to releasing that same stress. When we develop a level of self-awareness, and give ourselves the space and the environment in which to release the stress, it becomes easier to determine what we require in order to come back to a state of wellbeing. It is my job to create the space and safe environment for people to experience this.
Meditation and Breath
Meditation is an excellent tool for developing self-awareness. You can be lead by a practitioner such as myself, opt for an app such as insight timer where you can find guided meditations or try some techniques on your own. In this meditation video, I demonstrate a specific breathing style to assist in releasing repressed emotion held in the body. Often we don’t cerebrally know it is there, but a physical movement coupled with an intense breathing style helps to bring this emotion forward and release it.