The way that we talk about things matters. The language that we use effects the way that we think about and engage with a topic. When we choose to use positive language, we are more likely to think about and engage with the topic in a positive way. Like wise, negative language is more likely to evoke a negative response in us. This is important because our minds and bodies are connected. Our expectations can influence the outcomes. This is why the placebo effect exists. When we believe that we are getting treatment and are going to get better, we have a better chance of improving our physical well being; even if we aren’t getting treatment. This does not mean that we can magically cure ourselves of all ills with will power, positive thoughts or good vibes. But what it does mean, is that we can help our bodies foster an enivornment for healing.
Your mind and body are powerful allies. How you think can affect how you feel. And how you feel can affect your thinking. Before you completely dismiss this idea, consider how your emotions make you feel. When you are anxious, your heart beats faster. When you are embaressed, you blush. When you are sad, you cry. Our emotions have physical manifestations on our bodies. Constant worry and stress over jobs, finances, relationships or other problems can cause tense muscles, pain, headaches, and stomach problems. It may also lead to high blood pressure or insomnia. On the other hand, constant pain or a health problem like heart disease can affect your emotions. You might become depressed, anxious, and stressed, which could affect how well you treat, manage, or cope with your illness. This is the mind body connection.
This isn’t an endorsement for toxic positivity. I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for feeling the full range of human emotions. Rather, I’m saying that the way that we approach our feelings and think about them will make a difference. Anger does not need to be our enemy. Instead, ask what our anger is trying to tell us. Same with sadness and fear. These “negative” emotions do not need to be looked upon as enemies that need be avoided at all costs. We can embrace these emotions, give them space and process them. We can allow ourselves to have the emotions we are having without judgement. There is no such thing as a good or a bad feeling. They just are. What you choose to do with your feelings is what has all the power. When you notice your anger and realize that it is because your boundaries were not respected, you can choose to discuss that with the offender. Giving our emotions space, gives us the power to choose how we will us them rather then allowing them to fuel us blindly.
Using our emotions productively has a positive effect on our bodies. Rather than flying into a blind rage, we can notice and choose to make change in positive ways. This will reduce immediate stress by not feeding into the raw emotion. It will also reduce future stress by avoiding the feelings of guilt that come after having such conflicts with others. It also has the potential of reducing future stress by preventing future conflict through dialogue with others. All of this works with the anger and works towards a better healing environment in our bodies. The simple change being that we chose not to avoid the anger, but to embrace it and give it space. Allowing it to be as it is and accepting it as a normal and natural part of who we are.
This reframing of things is the power of language. When we say that we are “broken” or compare our selves to ancient ruins, we are telling our body that it cannot be healed. We are turning off the potential of the palcebo effect. We are choosing a body environment that is not ideal for healing. This isn’t to say that we should lie to ourselves. I have EDS and that’s a genetic disorder. There is no amount of reframing that is going to rewrite my DNA to enable my body to properly create connective tissues. But I can allow my body the oppurtunity to create the best possible environment for healing, giving me the best possible out come in the course of my illness. This doesn’t mean that I will never have pain or that my joints will never sublux. But it does mean that I will have more resilence when these events do occur and that my body will be better equipped to repair the damage.
Using the mind body connection is about setting the stage for success. Consider getting yourself prepared for a job interview. Writing a resume, getting a nice outfit, making sure you’re on time, knowing about the company you are applying to and having the application completed ahead of time are all things that will improve your odds of getting the job. None of these things gaurantee that you will get the job. But being prepared makes it more likely. Healing is the same. Getting exercise, having good nutrition, managing emotions, reducing stress, taking your medications, using your medical devices etc all make healing more likely.
While we are talking about language. Let’s talk about the word healing. I’m not talking about curing people of their chronic illnesses here. I’m talking about being able to find a better life balance, a better management and a better way of living. When we live better, we have achieved healing. We don’t have to be cured from an illness to achieve an improvement in our life. For many of us, a cure is not an option. That’s what makes it a chronic conidition. Accepting that your condition cannot be cured doesn’t preclude the option of pursuing a healing environment. Healing will look different for each of us. For many it would mean a reduction in pain. For others it would be finding psychological peace with our diagnosis. For others it would mean being able to find a way to continue to do a loved activity.
So, yes, we have chronic illness and by nature of the beast that is forever, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot find ways to live better. That doesn’t mean that we are broken or without value or lost. We choose which words we use to describe us. Choose words that help you build an environment of healing. I choose to define myself as strong, determined, smart and adaptable. I choose to seek ways to live better. And one of those ways is through the language that I use when I am talking about myself and my illness.