I never used to get headaches. But somehow in recent years, I am getting them more regularly. I have chased after assorted causes and have come to realize that they frequently come on when I feel literally squeezed by the world, feeling like I have too many things to do and not enough time to do them. The spinning in my head because I feel obligated to please everyone who needs something from me literally gives me a headache.
It’s pretty obvious—certainly not rocket science—but an important thing for me to be aware of.
A friend who was having marital issues developed horrible back problems. And another acquaintance had a terrible bout of vertigo when she was going through a “dizzying” stage in her life. Someone else I know has had a significant improvement in her PMS as some stressors in her personal life have eased and she is in a far happier and more settled situation emotionally.
Last week, I mentioned David Goggins, the ultra-marathoner, Navy Seal, physical “crazy man” and author of Can’t Hurt Me. In the last chapter of this book, he describes how his body literally shut down when he was attempting an ultra-marathon much like many others that he had run previously. He couldn’t breathe…couldn’t see straight…and his heart rhythm was erratic. He quit the race, but his body continued to break down over the next weeks. Doctors gave him assorted tests and medications, all to no avail. He thought he was dying, but then he thought about the insanely tight “knots” in his hips and on his neck. The explanation? His body had become so tight from excessive stresses in his life and excessive strain on his muscles that he was literally cutting off the circulation in his body. It wasn’t drugs that cured him. It was hours and hours of stretching and the realization that his mind and deep-buried emotional pains were choking his body.
The common theme through all of these tales? The power of our minds and emotions to affect our bodies. Yet we are spending billions of dollars on tests, medications and expensive treatments in search of “cures” when, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the answer is inside of us all along.
Last week, Bottom Line hosted a panel discussion with two of our leading docs—Dr. Geo Espinosa and Dr. Joseph Feuerstein about strategies to protect yourself from the cold and flu this winter as well as how to heal faster if you do get sick. The talk lasted for well over an hour, and yet less than 10 minutes were spent discussing the presumed gold standard for flu protection—a vaccine. Rather, the majority of the advice centered around the importance of having a strong immune system, with which most people can fend off many germs. When that protective layer is weakened, we are more vulnerable to illnesses of all kinds. How did the doctors suggest that you create that strong immune system? Healthy diet, good rest and…reducing emotional stressors. Essentially, we need to understand that the body is an integrated system, not simply the sum of its parts, and be sure that the entire system is in balance and taken care of.
Emotional stressors eat at our systems, causing inflammatory reactions throughout our bodies that, in turn, can cause disease. Other stressors cut off circulation, starving our muscles and joints of oxygen and creating pain…sometimes really bad pain.
While doing research for this blog, I came across an article we published more than 20 years ago with the late Dr. John Sarno, professor of clinical rehabilitation medicine at New York University School of Medicine, about curing patients’ pain by addressing emotional stressors in their lives. Sarno took the impact of our emotions one step further—he believed that part of the pain we experience is our bodies’ way of distracting our minds from the emotional pain we are really suffering. That’s because it’s “easier” to deal with physical pain than to deal with deep emotional challenges,which get suppressed rather than released. While he focused on healing pain, additional research since then has shown that his advice applies to all sorts of illness.
His plan for curing the pain…
1. Make a list of the possible sources of your psychological stress. When writing the list, remember that most distress is internally generated. Two common examples…
Example #1: Perfectionism. Because you’re so eager to excel at everything you do, you’re highly critical of yourself—and overly sensitive to criticism from others.
Example #2: The need to be liked. You try to be good and nice to everyone—because you want everyone’s love, admiration and respect. “Goodism” is just as stressful as perfectionism—and just as likely to cause frustration and rage.
External causes of distress might include a mean boss, an argumentative spouse, a meddlesome relative or another person with whom you have a difficult relationship. It also could be serious financial trouble or simply a sense of having too little time to get things done. Even happy experiences—marriage, job promotion, a new baby—create pressure. And pressure creates unconscious rage.
By reading and rereading your list—and reminding yourself of the true causes of your pain—you’ll “cure” the pain. Most people who use this technique become pain-free within eight weeks.
2. Review your list daily. Spend at least 30 minutes a day thinking about each item on your list and how it could be causing pressure in your life. Resolve to take action to defuse the pressures you can change…and to accept the pressures you cannot change.
3. Visualize your rage. Imagine yourself in a blind fury. That is the experience your unconscious mind is having to cope with on a continuing basis. Now consider what might happen if you gave free rein to your rage. You could ruin your marriage, lose your job—even wind up in jail. Your conscious mind is as frightened of these experiences as you are. That’s why it chooses to hide your rage from you.
More words of advice from Sarno’s article…
Understand “location substitution.” Say that you’ve just gotten over a bad case of back pain—and now your elbow has started to hurt. Chances are that the brain has simply picked a new spot in your body to cause pain to distract you from your rage. Realize the same pain process is happening once again—only in another part of your body.
Flu season is almost upon us, and today’s political finger-pointing is giving everyone a headache. Practice the self-care that Dr. Feuerstein and Dr. Espinosa prescribe…and become an observer of yourself. Watch what ails you physically, and think about what is weighing on you emotionally. Pills and potions can suppress symptoms, but they will not cure the stressors or the suppressed frustrations of your life. Only you can do that.