And so my true experience of the Mind Body connection started in 2016. Diagnosed with “an auto immune disease of some sort” (which after much assessment turned out to be a type of arthritis) I was put on Plaquenil, an anti-rheumatic drug to reduce inflammation and swelling. The problem was that this tablet made me feel constantly jet lagged, I couldn’t focus and so it kind of took one pain away and gave me another, especially as I just was returning to work after mat leave and really needed all my brain power!
Being a long-time practitioner of mindfulness, I could lean on my knowledge here that stress had something to do with the immune system, and that stress was something that is mostly in our perception, and a movable feast. So therein lay my first true experiment of how powerful the Mind Body connection is. For the next two months, I dropped the tablets and started upping my self-care. I started carving time out for reflexology, yoga, and increased my time spent in mindfulness that had waned since returning to work and having the young kids at home – it became very apparent with this news just how important this self-care thing really was. I was riveted by the results of my “experiment”; I could feel the inflammation subside, the fatigue dial down (which were my two major symptoms) and when I returned to the doctors, lo and behold my ANA’s (important medically but awfully boring for this story – all we need know is that they were previously 1:1280, meaning that the ANA’s still show up when your blood is diluted 1 in 1280 times – a very high result), had gone down to 1:320!! That’s a pretty big difference. Oh excellent the doctor said, the tablets are working. No I said, and explained what I had been doing instead. The doctor looked baffled (gp’s are trained to work on medicines to combat disease rather than the full holistic and progressive ways we now have available, and they deal mainly with the symptoms rather than targeting the cause). I haven’t yet taken the drugs again and know now whenever my cup is getting overfull, to remember my self-care because after all, our body really is for life and we can take care of it simply by spending time on the things that nourish us. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree with medicine but think it has it’s place and that most things in life should be at least considered holistically.
Another great tangible example of the mind body connection is the new-ish and fascinating research on telomeres. Think of telomeres like the plastic protectors on the end of shoelaces. Just as these can get worn and frayed with the shoelaces then becoming damaged, telomeres help protect your chromosomes from damage, which in turn protects your cellular aging (which as you may know can be more important than biological aging, in protecting us from degenerative diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, and determine our longevity). Recent research suggests that there may be ways to hack this shortening process of the telomeres by stress management. If we are able to change our relationship with perceived stressors, this changes the whole game.
“Be careful what you’re thinking, because your cells are listening”…. Ever heard this saying? Kind of creepy right? But oh so true…
One of the most essential skills we can learn in this lifetime is to be aware of what is happening in our own mind. We have somewhere between 10 – 70,000 thoughts a day and most of them happen out of our awareness. The most valuable thing you can do in this day and age is to get a handle on what is happening inside this head of ours to be able to productively direct our own attention. We often can’t change our environment, but we can absolutely learn the fundamental skills to master internal landscapes which in turn vastly affects our physical health.