During the past year, aches and pains in my body multiplied. I know, 83 years old - what can I expect? Maybe it’s arthritis, maybe I exercised too much or slept on the wrong side, or perhaps it’s old age. But then I was reminded of the mindbody connection. The what - you ask?
The John Hopkins Health Care Solutions website describes it this way
The mindbody connection is a belief that the causes, development, and outcomes of a physical illness are determine by the interaction of psychological, social and biological factors Your health can be affected by the stress from both good and bad life events like marriage/divorce, promotion/lay-off or the purchase of a house/home foreclosure.
And your body responds to that stress. When you’re stressed—you may develop high blood pressure, a stomach ulcer, back pain, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, and you may have sleep problems.
Here’s another way of looking at it:
Motivational author and speaker, Louise Hay says
I believe we create every so-called illness in our body. The body, like everything else in life, mirors our inner thoughts and beliefs. The body is always talking to us, if we take the time to listen. Every cell within your body responds to every single though you think and every word you speak.
Stress lowers a person’s threshold for pain and can cause tightness or soreness in the muscles. It can lead to flare-ups of symptoms of arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other conditions.
Was it possible that stress was causing the aches and pain in my body? I decided to explore this possibility further.
The past five years have been stressful. I was the caregiver for my husband as he dealt with dementia and died from COVID. I moved to a new apartment, had three eye surgeries, and prevailed through the pandemic. Now there is political turmoil in the United States, and war in Ukraine. All of this was and is stressful for me. In fact, the neck pain began the day after I got back from a Hawaiian vacation and faced the reality of taxes, the horror others were facing, and the old worries left behind.
Then I read
Aches and pains are a common physical symptom of grief. Grief can cause back pain, joint pain, headaches, and stiffness. The pain is caused by the overwhelming amount of stress hormones being released during the grieving process. These effectively stun the muscles. Stress hormones act on the body in a similar way to broken heart syndrome.
the loss of a loved one can leave a devastating wake of emotional destruction. However, the thing no one tells you is that grief can manifest itself physically as well, making you sick, causing you pain and leaving you exhausted.
“Your brain is on overload with thoughts of grief, sadness, loneliness, and many other feelings. Grief Brain affects your memory, concentration, and cognition. Your brain is focused on the feelings and symptoms of grief which leaves little room for your everyday tasks.
There was pain in my body, confusion in my mind, trouble with concentration, and enormous sadness in my heart after my husband’s death. But I didn’t consider the role grief could be playing.
An outcome was that my inner critic - the inner voice that continues a negative internal commentary on what I was doing went overboard - criticizing everything - which in turn increased the stress and created tension in me.
Doctors, hospitals, and prescription drugs are a last resort for me. Why - that’s another story? So, my current theory is this: the combination of stress, grief, and my inner critic’s loud voice led to an increase in aches and pains.
If I’m going to age well, I must heal and it may not be a matter of healing just my body, but also healing my wounded heart.
With that in mind, I developed a six step plan.
take better care of myself - both physically and emotionally
increase my journal writing
read about the topic
ask the pain what its message for me is
honor what I have accomplished, let go of things I can’t control, and practice self-compassion.
People use selective attention and selective exposure to avoid exposing themselves to uncomfortable truths about themselves. They avoid places and persons that can bring problematic facts to their attention. Suppose you think of yourself as honorable and keeping your promises but you owe someone money you haven't returned longer than initially agreed. In that case, you will go out of your way to avoid seeing or talking to that person.
It made me wonder if most of us have become dangerously selfish and disconnected from the larger reality of life. Most of us live very comfortable lives. Perhaps, there's too much to lose.
Her words of wisdom help explain the situation. Was I selectively focusing on physical pain and not seeing underlying emotional pain that could be precipitating it? Was I criticizing myself for understandable responses to stress and emotional pain?