Healing From Chronic Illness: Why Mindset Matters
True healing is multidimensional and includes more than the physical body. It's a combination of nutrition, movement, self-care, sleep, etc. all of which work together to create an environment for the human body to reach optimal health. Mindset is a huge component of healing that is often overlooked in the treatment of chronic illness, yet it is the foundation of healing and it is the foundation of igniting your inner strength.
When I first became bedridden, more often than not, I was frustrated, resistant, negative, and hopeless. I was exhausted from fighting to survive, every single day. Fighting for my health was a constant challenge, from the second I woke up to the second I closed my eyes for bed (and if it was a night with high symptoms or insomnia, well that was even more exhausting). I was so depleted that it was extremely difficult to laugh, joke, or even smile most days. At the time, my mindset was most often negative - it was just my default. I felt like it took too much energy to be positive, energy that I didn’t have. I accepted positivity from others, sometimes, but I rarely truly internalized it. Slowly, I started to gain awareness of how this negativity was affecting my everyday life, my relationships, and my own healing. One day, albeit years deep into the journey (better late than never), I said enough is enough, and I decided that I was going to flip the script. It was time to start cultivating a healthier mindset.
Of course, this didn’t come easy and it surely did not happen overnight. It took a great amount of time, learning, and effort to shift to a healthier mindset, and truthfully, I believe it is a lifelong process. Throughout this journey, I have used many tools to move through difficult emotions and to cultivate a healthier mindset, such as meditation, gratitude, and journaling. I even sought help from a therapist who helped me work through deep rooted emotions and traumas. Slowly but surely, I started to feel different, a little bit lighter, a little bit more hopeful, a little bit more joy, and a lot more empowered to fight for the life I knew I deserved. Although I had already been in treatment for years, it felt like I was finally starting to heal.
Now, when I am asked what I would do differently on my health journey, I say “the number one thing I wish I had gotten a handle on sooner was my mindset.” Because in hindsight, all those years with an unhealthy mindset made my journey more difficult, more painful, more isolating, and I’ll even venture to say that it significantly increased the time it took me to heal. I’ll explain why.
Why Does Mindset Matter?
The mind and body are so deeply connected. Our bodies have a physical response to what we hear and say, out loud and to ourselves. When we are dealing with difficult situations in life, like chronic illness, it is likely that we will feel overwhelmed, upset, angry, and we might even start saying to ourselves, “this will never get better.” When persistent and if not handled properly, this type of thinking can overcome us, becoming a consistent negative mindset. Then the snowball effect begins.
A persistent negative mindset leads to excess stress, which causes the sympathetic nervous system to fire up, putting us into fight or flight mode. This fight or flight mode is great at protecting us from immediate threats and danger, but it is meant to be a short term stress response. When the nervous system is fired up like this consistently, the body thinks it is always in danger, stress hormones remain high, and the body’s normal functioning gets disrupted. In other words, healing is the body’s last priority.
For healing, especially from chronic illness, it is important that we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest mode. Our heart and respiratory rates decrease, digestion increases, and our bodies are in a relaxed, resting state. This tells us we are safe and our body has the space to do the work to heal rather than dealing with excess stress.
In my experience, I noticed that the more I cultivated a healthier mindset, the more often my body was in a restful state and the better I felt. There is great impact in shifting the mindset from negative to positive, and this shift plays a direct role in activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Healing is an inside job as much as it is an outside job; when we do the inner work to move through difficult emotions and shift towards a healthier perspective, it creates noticeable shifts in the physical body, including relieving tension, reducing physical pain, and of course reducing emotional pain. This isn’t to say that you should never feel negative feelings or think negative thoughts again. It is normal to shift back and forth, but what is most important is choosing not to stay in the negative. When we no longer let the negativity live in our body, we experience a greater sense of peace, calm, and freedom, all of which allow the body more space to heal. When we believe we can feel better, we do better. This is why mindset matters.
How to Start the Shift
The first step towards a healthier mindset is to embrace our situation. When times get tough, we often try to push the discomfort and pain away. We might feel like a victim or get stuck in the “life is unfair,” “why is this happening to me?” and “I will never get better” mindset. We disapprove of ourselves and our situation. To some extent, I think this is a normal human response, but at a certain point, our body is going to believe our thoughts. When we stay here, we are giving our situation the power and allowing it to control us, and it can cause feelings of hopelessness as opposed to feelings of empowerment.
What flips the script is when you allow yourself to feel all of these feelings, make the conscious decision not to stay there and then move through them. Here, you can embrace your current situation without all the negativity and judgement of yourself. Embracing your situation can reduce overwhelm and resistance, which in turn will reduce stress. Embracing your situation takes the power away from your illness and puts the power back in your hands. In this space, you will feel empowered to make positive shifts in your life so you can live the life you know you deserve and ignite your inner strength.
This piece was written and contributed by:
Courtney is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach & Chronic Illness Advocate who specializes in freeing women from the overwhelm of managing a chronic illness so that they can ignite the inner strength to overcome their health challenges. Combining her education and personal experience with Lyme Disease and chronic illness, she created the Conquer From Within Wellness program, a private coaching experience that empowers her clients to take control of their mindset and lifestyle, build their wellness team, and find momentum on the path to healing.