Rewiring Your Thoughts To Help Heal A Chronic Illness
Amy Kurtz was sick from age 14 to age 29. Now she helps young women, like her, navigate their chronic illnesses.
The connection between the body and the mind has long been proven by doctors, researchers, and anybody who ever caught a nasty cold right before going to visit their in-laws for the holidays. Stress can literally make you sick! It’s been linked to everything from asthma and obesity to heart disease and gastrointestinal failure..you name it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Mayo Clinic found that one of the highest predictors of a long life was… drum roll please… an optimistic attitude. Imagine that!
Western medicine is catching up to the fact that there’s no separating your mind from your physical body. They are part of the same system that keeps your blood pumping and your lungs breathing and your brain cells flickering with thoughts. The mindset we bring to our health and wellbeing has a big impact on how we feel every day. And for those of us managing chronic health conditions, honoring this truth might be the most crucial step to the healing process.
Part of that process involves taking away the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that hurt your physical body. If you think thoughts that are stressful or that make you sad or depressed, then your physical body won’t feel good. It won’t heal as quickly. When you think peaceful, loving, and happy thoughts, your body is flooded with chemicals that make you feel healthy and happy. It’s cause and effect… or a cause for affection!
If the Mind Can Conceive It….
When we are diagnosed with something, we internalize that information mentally, physically, and spiritually. While it might be a relief to “finally get to the bottom” of a health issue, it’s easy to receive that diagnosis as a limitation that we need to cope with, adjust for, live with forever. Like a wound that will never heal, or a heaviness that weighs our spirit down.
Worrying (aka praying for a future you don’t want) also goes hand in hand with chronic health issues. It keeps you in sick-mode. And I say that coming from a long, proud line of worriers! Worrying takes us out of the present moment and throws us into the unknown future, onto which we project all sorts of fears. Fear that the doctor was right, we’ll never feel better again, never run again, sing again, be ourselves again. And if we mistake those fears as our truth… then all of our thoughts, behaviors, and actions will follow suit.
Think about it: If you accept that you’ll “always have to be on this medication”, will you spend much time seeking out alternative therapies? If you truly believe you’ll never run again, how hard will you try to walk?
If The Heart Can Believe It…
I’ll never forget the moment I hit rock bottom, on my own journey from sick to well. I was in my 20’s, sitting in the office of my 6th Gastrointestinal Specialist. By that time I had visited dozens of doctors, tried every remedy and medication, thrown spaghetti at the wall to see what stuck, but nothing did. I was suffering from symptoms that were getting worse by the day, and I was in full-on panic mode. The doctor looked at me and said, “Your colon isn’t working. We can’t figure out why. Your best option is to have it removed.” That news hit me like a ton of bricks. I curled up in bed and cried for days. I couldn’t understand why my body wasn’t working for me. I felt so hopeless and frustrated. I considered the surgery. This specialist was the best in his field, after all; maybe he was right.
But I held back.
The doctor told me my colon was unfixable, but he didn’t have proof. Perhaps there was a still a chance? Something deep inside told me — there has to be a better way. It can’t always be this way. Up until then, I had put so much faith in doctors. This time, I listened to that inner voice. I started meditating. I took a break from the doctors and went back to the drawing board, with a new belief: Amy, you have the ability to heal yourself.
The Body Can Achieve It
The second I started thinking differently about what I could feel like, light bulbs started going off. A simple shift in belief changed everything for me. It got my butt to see more specialists who had bucket loads of suggestions and alternative solutions to surgery. I went out on a limb, developed a spiritual practice, All of these things led to the answers that brought me healing, wellness, and a better quality of life. Saying the words, “You have the ability to heal yourself,” to myself became my own ritual. Those words are part of my daily meditations, and they are now in my bones, a deep knowing. You have the ability to heal yourself. That lesson became my life.
Make a Mantra
Don’t take my word for it. Do you have any beliefs about your health that you’re willing to shift today? When I coach clients with chronic conditions, I take them through the following exercise:
Think of a health diagnosis you’ve been given. Perhaps you had back pain and your doctor told you, “You’re going to need spinal surgery”. Write that down. Now, think about what a contrary belief would be. For the back pain diagnosis, example, you might write, “I am limber and pain free”. See the trick? A couple other examples:
Diagnosis: Your osteoarthritis will paralyze you.
Belief: My body is in fine working order and moves freely and gracefully.
Diagnosis: You won’t be able to walk without support
Belief: I will travel the world with my grandchildren.
Write down your chosen contrary belief, and sit with it for a while. Hear it in your mind. Does the thought of it make your heart swell? Does it resonate through every cell in your body? Is it your dream? I want the idea of it to give you chills. If it doesn’t, it needs to be rewritten. When the reality of your chosen belief sounds like something you yearn for, something that would make you your happiest you, you have your mantra. Repeat with love as necessary.