Lots of us are more than aware of the mind-body relationship and how powerful it can be. When a person sits in my treatment room they are almost always complaining of physical pain but it is so interesting to see and hear the different descriptions, reactions and attitudes towards that pain. We all experience things totally individually for many different reasons. We also all recover and heal differently, largely due to our genetics but our outlook and mindset play an important part.
I was prompted to write this post recently by a patient who I have been treating for a number of years on and off. Nothing serious, just the odd postural related aches and pains that so many of us get. Aside from this she had been diagnosed with a chronic disease about 15 years ago. She had been lucky however to have kept the symptoms under control with the help of regular medicine and hadn't really suffered during this time. At her last yearly check up her consultant had suggested that they re-scan and as she had been symptom free for so long, if they found no disease, they would end her treatment. As the consultant had said to her, 'If it's not broken, why fix it?'.
I can imagine if you had 100 different patients hearing this news, there would have been 100 different reactions. Some may have been pleased and excited by the fact that they are potentially 'cured'. Some may be nervous and a little anxious but thankful that it is coming to an end. This lady was scared. She was convinced that the disease would come back if they took her off the medication. She was also angry, why would someone want to change something that was working so well? She really struggled to see a single positive in the situation. She whole heartedly believed that she needed the treatment to continue in order to remain well. As she left the clinic one day I couldn't help but think to myself that she was right, the symptoms would almost certainly return.
A few weeks later her scan results came back clear, there was no sign of disease and as she had been symptom free for well over a decade the treatment was to end. True to her belief though, a few months later, she was back at the doctors complaining of all the symptoms she had experienced all those years before. She was not a well lady. She was in pain, she wasn't sleeping, she was signed off work, stressed, exhausted.
I am really pleased to say though that this lady's disease had not in fact returned. Amazingly, it was her mind playing tricks with her. The more tired, stressed and anxious she became, the worse her 'symptoms' got. The worsening symptoms made her more anxious, and increasingly angry that this was happening, spiralling her into a vicious circle. She is thankfully a few months further down the line back to being symptom free again, but this time not with drugs but with counselling, relaxation techniques and exercise.
This lady, although at the more extreme end of the scale, is just one example of many I see where the mind is playing a massive part in the overall picture. I am by no means suggesting that everyone is imagining their pain, far from it, but the very common situation of being stressed, mentally exhausted, confused etc can certainly hinder your recovery.
Be informed. Explore your condition, what you can expect and what options you have. I don't mean start Googling! I mean don't be afraid to ask questions and get an answer. I hope that all my patients feel they can ask me whatever they like however a lot of people feel that they cannot ask about or question other decisions that are made about their health leaving them feeling confused and unsure. If you're not the type to ask questions maybe take someone with you to any appointments who will ask the questions for you.
Exercise is well known to increase endorphin levels making you feel better. Going to a class also sets aside some time for you that often we don't get. Something like Yoga or Pilates is wonderful for getting you moving, doing some breathing exercises and relaxing all at the same time. If your injury/illness prevents you from doing something like this, be creative and do what you can. Moving in some way and getting outside of the same four walls can make a profound difference to your mood.
Connect with other people in a similar boat to you. You will get to speak to people at all ends of the scale, some better than you, some worse. They will all have had different experiences, be able to share different ideas, things to try and so on.
Mindfulness and meditation are becoming increasingly popular. Free apps such as Headspace give you a chance to sit back and take 10 minutes out of your day to relax and switch off with a guided meditation (no omming involved!) There are general relaxation sessions or also sessions related to more specific topics such as stress, anxiety etc.