We're diving a little deeper into the mind-body connection, how it helps with chronic illness and chronic pain, and what are some things we can do to improve all aspects of our health!
In this episode we talk about:
Welcome to the chronically living and how to make the most of it podcast. I'm Kelsey Harris, a chronic pain warrior here to inspire hope and strength to the spoonie community, get ready to lift each other up and find ways to live the best life possible. Welcome, welcome, everyone to this week's episode, I'm glad as always to be here, I actually really love hosting this podcast, it is a lot of fun for me. And I actually always learned something through it. Whether it be from the guests that I've interviewed, or through the research that I do for these solo episodes, I always make sure I do quite a bit of research to make sure I'm bringing you guys accurate, updated information. So it's Yeah, it's great for me in that sense. So hopefully, you guys are learning a lot as well. And taking some of this with you. And I'm guessing that's part of the reason that some of you keep coming back. And if it's your first time here, hopefully, you will get something out of it and want to come back or check out some of the older episodes. I know that we've talked a lot about the body, mind or mind body, however you want to see it connection on this podcast before. But it's always been in little snippets. Like it's part of episodes on mental health. I've done a couple of those. Some guests have talked about it, especially some of my early on guests. But I mean right throughout. So it's always been this recurring theme. And I really wanted to do a full episode on it. Because I think it's really important for chronic illness warriors to understand this concept. And I really believe that the healing process requires us not just to understand how our minds and bodies interact, but also how to help the health like how helping one part can help the other. Though, I guess the question with that, then is which do I start with the body or the mind. Okay, so before we get to that question, though, because we are going to get to it. Let's talk a little bit about how the mind and body interact. So if you read my blog, you probably know that I've done a couple posts on this as well, fairly recently. One was about the body mind connection more generally, and the other about trauma and chronic illness, because it's really fascinating. So there's like a ton of research on the subject of the mind body connection. Definitely way more research than I'll ever be able to cover in this episode, like it would be multiple episodes, multiple guests. So what I'm going to say is that we're doing this episode, but as always just expect it to be a recurring theme on this show. One of the most important things to remember about the mind body connection is that our minds, or, more specifically, our brains control everything in our body. So the body does send signals to the brain. So like if we get caught, right, like, you know, Ouch, that hurts and you know, the things going on the body to heal it right away. And vice versa, like the brain send send signals to the body. So pain receptors are a really good example of this, because they're located in the brains, like in our brain, right at the same area as mood is. So that's basically one of the reasons that chronic pain and depression are really closely associated, like it's very common with people chronic pain to have depression, or people with depression have chronic pain. So our bodies and brains are constantly interacting. They're sending messages to each other. And sometimes this can cause mental health problems with anxiety and depression of course being the most common. The problem is anxiety and depression can also send signals to the brain and thoughts the body that increase things like chronic pain. Now we're talking about chronic pain specifically here, but so much more can be attributed to the stress response. So autoimmune diseases often come on after a period of great stress. Like there's lots of evidence to document that. In fact, probably you've been to rheumatologists, they asked you about stress. And flares for people with these conditions also often happen during periods of great stress. And what do flares include? Well, that's a huge range of things from pain and swelling to rashes to hair loss to weight gain or weight loss and more like it really depends on what condition you have. It can, you know, it could be mouth ulcers, it could be just keeps going. And stress and anxiety are essentially forcing the body to react in a way that is well let's face it quite terrible. There's also the work of Dr. Gabor Mate who really focuses on is that he's, he is a specialist who, he doesn't want to work with substance use. But he's also done a lot of work with chronic illness. And he's even worked in palliative care as well. And what he focused on in terms of chronic illnesses, is how it's caused by the stress response and in very often caused by childhood trauma. So his research, much of which actually comes from his interactions with patients focuses more on more than just autoimmune diseases, but also cancer, neurological diseases like ALS, and skin conditions, including eczema AM. Now as I wrote in my blog post on the subject, this doesn't mean that everyone with one of these conditions has experienced trauma. But stronger stress responses, in general seem to have at least partially a causal role in the development of many, many, many chronic illnesses. I often think that think of this is like a cyclic cyclical concept, okay, so like, anxiety feeds chronic pain, which feeds anxiety, and it's like a wheel turning, or depression feeds chronic pain, which feeds depression, or stress feeds the symptoms of flares, which causes more stress. So how the fuck do we get out of this cycle? Like, I know, I don't have to swear on the show. But like, really. So the only real way to break is to get other cycles to break the chain somewhere. So to interrupt the cycle as it's gone. As I mentioned earlier, it would be either treating the chronic illness, or treating the mental health problems, or and I this is what I think is ideal, treating both at the same time. So I wrote a book called The Single Ladies guide to chronic pain. And I'm in the process of trying to get it published. It's quite a long process. So we'll see how that goes. That worst case scenario might just self publish, but we'll we'll get when we get there, we'll get there. But one of the main themes of the book is really taking a holistic approach, in that you can't just fix part of your life and hope that everything else falls in place. It's like Oh, if I fixed my chronic pain, I will not have any other problems, like I'll be able to date and alcopop relationship, and I'll be really good job. And I won't have any mental health problems. Like, that's not really how it works. You have to work on all the different parts at the same time in order to get the best results. So I'm not saying you can't, you could just work on chronic pain and like, maybe some of that stuff will help with fixed in the process, but probably not all of it. And that's certainly not, at least in my opinion, not the most efficient way to go about it. So for today, let's just look at chronic illness. And I don't think we necessarily have to pick one specifically. But we'll just look at chronic illness in general. So let's say there's someone with a chronic illness, and they've been feeling both depressed and anxious because they commonly go together. So because of their chronic illness, they're feeling depressed and anxious. Now, maybe they have flares, or maybe it's it's cancer, and they have some intense symptoms, or so on. So their symptoms aren't getting better, and neither is their mental health. Because the two things are feeding each other. And if we're going to treat both at the same time, that means a the person needs to have a really great health care team. So this probably includes like they're they're specialists, so could be a rheumatologist could be a neurologist could be an oncologist right and whoever their specialist is GP, because as much as I know we've talked about medically isolating and GP is not always being super helpful. It's still important to have one on your team. It might include some nurses, and perhaps some other specialists like a physiotherapist and or chiropractor and or naturopath and or a somatic specialist and or a massage therapist, and so on. be that person who's to have mental health care professional such as a psychotherapist or psychologist, or maybe even a psychiatric nurse depending on the presentation. So one of these teams is very focused on the body and healing that and then the mental health care professionals interview from good match naturopath and them as well because they're very holistic. They're all going to focus on the the mind side of things. So we've got the body and the mind being worked on. And yes, this sounds like a lot of appointments. I have done, done this. It is and depending on your health care coverage, It might cost you some extra money in your pocket. So sometimes it comes down to to some balance and budgeting, which is all stuff I talked about in the book I wrote. So I really hope it gets published, because I think that it can help some people with with kind of that part as well. But anyways, so it is not necessarily easy to do. And I'm not saying it is. But I think it's important, because it's very likely to work. Now, from a mental healthcare perspective, I've mentioned before that I mostly practice acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT, do you also use depending clients, DBT or CBT. But for for my chronic illness clients, I use ACT. And this actually has a lot of research supporting its use, not just with mental health conditions, but also with physical health ones such as a myriad of chronic illnesses and chronic pain. So yes, this means that your mental health care can potentially decrease pain and symptoms of illness, or at least the influence they have on what you can and cannot do with your life. It's really interesting stuff. So research shows that and this week, we're going to look at some different research. So first, we've got research by rikkyo at all from 2016, which is called Mind Body approaches and chronic illness status of research. So this research shows that mind body interventions such as mindfulness can reduce symptoms and cancer, fibromyalgia, migraines, epilepsy and asthma. Personally, I think anything that can reduce symptoms is freaking amazing. So yeah, it's my opinion there. But pretty cool. Other research, by love at all from 2019 on money, but Mind Body interventions, psychological stressors and quality of life in stroke survivors, suggest the use of yoga or Tai Chi, because it can reduce depression, anxiety, and improve overall quality of life in this population. Again, pretty cool and interesting. Then there's research by Sainte Marie and tele Becca, from 2018 on neurological evidence of a mind body connection, mindfulness and pain control. So this research focuses not just on the connection itself, but also interventions for chronic pain. interventions include mindfulness techniques, exercise programs, brain and spinal cord stimulation and virtual reality hypnosis, which is interesting. And I don't really know much about that one, but sounds really, really interesting. So how does this work? I read these like, how is mindfulness and exercise like how does this even make a difference for chronic pain? Well, so using one example from the research, pain is associated with the autonomic nervous system, and so is emotion by the way. So we got the autonomic nomic Service's autonomic nervous system, which includes many regions of your brain, your brainstem, etc. and programs such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction have been shown to cause changes in brain Reis regions, such as an increase in regional frontal lobe blood flow, which thereby has reduced chronic pain and depression in fibromyalgia patients. Again, really interesting stuff. Now, with all of this, I am not saying don't take your prescribing medications or to stop seeing your doctor. On the contrary, like I said earlier, I think the best way to treat your chronic illness is to do both these things, work with your doctors, and use alternative options in coordination with a naturopath and or a mental health specialist. As a mental health practitioner, I actually love using yoga, mindfulness and exercise with my clients, because of the multiple ways it can help them. So I might, you know, encourage them to do some of this between sessions. We always do mindfulness in session. I often start sessions with clients with mindfulness to get present focused and into with everything, both within our bodies and in our entire experience. So again, acknowledging that there's a mind body connection, and we're going to use all this stuff to help ourselves. Okay, so for the quote, this week, I'm turning to George William Curtis, who said, happiness lies first of all in health. And I think that this doesn't mean that people who are not in good health can't be happy. This is where taking care of the whole body, this holistic Mind Body approach comes in. It's all related and connected and working together. So we need to work with all of it to get the best results for our overall health and our overall quality of life. Now quite often, I leave you all with a mindfulness meditation. But instead this week, I'm going to implore you to check out my YouTube channel, which is Kelsey L Harris Meditations. And I'm going to link that in the show notes as well. So you can try out some meditations, I tried to put a bunch of different types on there, and it's a new channel. So it is growing, I am trying to get at least one meditation out a week. And then I also at the end of the meditation, if you keep watching the videos, there's like a little explanation. Some things to think about. Just trying to help people get a little bit more out of it than than just the meditation, or relaxation exercise itself. If you're not feeling mindfulness right now, then some other options are to do some exercise that is within whatever your limits are, or something like yoga or Tai Chi. So I had Dr. Soneka Portee on the show, and she talked to us about the benefits of Tai Chi for chronic illnesses back in Episode 43. So that might be a good one to check out. If you're feeling your healthcare team is missing the mental health aspects, you're really taking care of your physical health. But no one's helping you deal with anything else, then maybe it's Sunday, find someone to help out with that. So that might be a psychotherapists like myself, there are some of us out there. Again, I'm in training, few more months, mid August, I will probably update the show a little bit because I will have my MA but there are psychotherapists who specialize in working with people with chronic illnesses and the mental health problems associated with it. So there are options for everyone. Okay, I feel like I've left you with a lot to think about. You can also check out my blog gene versus panda comm for more reading on the subject of the mind body connection. If that's something you're interested in, or hecky you can even do a Google search, and it will get you a ton of information. Don't forget you can get a copy of one of my two ebooks by reading and reviewing the show. So cut a little bonus for you guys. And I love getting feedback as and if you have suggestions for topics, please reach out on Instagram or by reviewing the show. For now my friends keep on making the most of it. Thank you so much for joining me today on the chronically living podcast. If you love this week's podcast, please subscribe, rate and leave a review. Until next week, stay strong