Centered Mind, Healthy Soul
Written by Kara Thompson
I brush my teeth. I get facials. I routinely visit the doctor. I take good care of my body in many ways, but I’ve realized that I’ve continuously left out the most important part—caring for my mind. If you sense that you’re in the same boat, you might feel like you carry your stress or emotions in certain parts of your body, leading to discomfort or pain.
For me, it’s often a 3:00 p.m. migraine on busy work days, after I’ve convinced myself that I can’t step away from my computer. It’s like my mind has become accustomed to the idea that the world might stop if I don’t cross everything off my to-do list. Other times, a heightened emotional state is the culprit for feeling not so great. If I’m sad or going through a challenging season, I can almost expect that my stomach will hurt. It’s the saying “worry yourself sick” come to life.
I know I’m not the only one who recognizes that the mind can play a role in physical discomfort. And the science behind it rings true. Dr. Jennifer Salcido, ND, founder of Santa Barbara Integrative Medicine, explains that pain is a messenger communicating from the mind through the body. “Instead of looking at pain as a nuisance or something to get rid of, it's best to dialogue with the pain,” Salcido says.
She recommends acknowledging and listening to the messenger, then asking yourself what the pain might be trying to tell you. “Maybe a person is pushing too hard and not getting enough rest. Maybe another person is not moving their body enough. Oftentimes, physical pain mirrors a deeper emotional or psychological pain. There can be anger, guilt, sadness, and other emotions that are being expressed as pain. In these cases, the pain will not go away until the underlying emotions are processed,” she says.
Nicole Sachs, LCSW, a psychotherapist who has dedicated her practice to the treatment of chronic pain, believes that people become the content of their long-term stress. She explains that while you might hold your stress in certain parts of your body, it’s best to focus on how you can align your mind and body so there’s no reason to hold your stress at all.
So how can we get in tune with our emotions and begin to heal? Sachs says the work is simple, but not easy. She has an online course, Freedom From Chronic Pain, which focuses on three facets of healing: 1) Believe 2) Do the work 3) Have patience and kindness for yourself.
The “believe” portion of her method is centered on the idea of letting go and truly believing in the mind-body connection. “It’s about understanding that your brain and your nervous system are seeking to protect you with physical pain because it’s a lesser predator than your emotional world.” By understanding this, you’ll be in the right mindset to process your emotions.
“Do the work” is what Sachs refers to as the JournalSpeak practice. JournalSpeak is a daily journaling practice followed by meditation. “The key is to pull out all of the unabashed, inappropriate, impolite truths about different topics in your life. It’s about starting to invite repressed emotions to arise,” she explains. Sachs says you might be surprised by what you discover about yourself. While it can be an intense practice, it will ultimately help you deal with stressors or trauma that you’ve never fully addressed.
The final aspect of her work is “patience and kindness for yourself” which is a way of understanding that you’re doing the best you can. We’re all living a human life and we have to practice self-compassion to help us on this healing journey. Start meditating, make time for exercise, schedule in your self-care. The more time you spend working on your inner self, the more you’ll benefit from these practices—but you have to do the emotional work (journaling) in order to fully discover what’s going on in your mind.
If you’re struggling with physical or emotional chronic pain, you have far more power than you realize to affect your wellbeing and day to day stress. Pain is not a punishment, but rather a way for your body to tell you to pause and listen. There are things we need to feel, but there are also ways we can work through those feelings to get better—both physically and emotionally.