How Dealing with Our Emotions Can Help us Heal Chronic Pain “The part can never be well unless the whole is well.” ~Plato Our bodies are clever. They constantly send us messages that something isn’t right. It’s our job to tune in, listen, and act on these messages. That headache, tight shoulders, and backache are all trying to tell us something. But sometimes the physical symptoms we experience are actually tied up in a deeper emotional pain that needs to be dealt with first. How do I know this? It was a message I needed to learn, one that I now teach to others. Six years ago my life fell apart. Within an eighteen-month period my marriage broke up, I lost my house in a devastating earthquake, and I had to walk away from my physiotherapy practice that I had poured my soul into for four years. At the same time I was also experiencing chronic shoulder pain. I was suffering from regular headaches, sciatica, and insomnia. I sought help from a number of different health practitioners. At times I would get temporary relief, but it never lasted. As a physiotherapist I knew I was doing everything right to heal my physical pain, so I could not understand why I wasn’t healing. Not only was my physical health a mess during this time, but I was also an emotional wreck! I felt like a failure. I was ravaged with guilt. I was scared of what the future held. And my self-esteem was at an all time low. I had stopped eating and sleeping. My weight had plummeted and I looked terrible. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Louise Hay’s book,Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them, that I began to gain a better understanding of the relationship between our emotional and physical health. This one book was the catalyst for change and healing. I realized that if I wanted to heal myself from chronic pain, I was going to have to dig deep to get to the core of all the challenges in my life. It was the start of a journey that wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty. A lot of the time I wanted to bury my head in the sand. I have always been one to brush emotions to the side. “I’m fine” was my tagline. But as I did the work, three key themes became clear. First, I had no sense of self-worth. I didn’t see myself as important as other people. I would give everything I had to everyone else and nothing to myself. If I did, I would feel guilty. I also have a Type A personality, I’m a high achiever, and I’m a perfectionist. I would constantly push myself to the limit, and the pressure I put on myself was immense. Lastly, I realized that I constantly compared myself to those I perceived to be living the perfect life, and I always came up short. I recognized that the pain I was experiencing was my body’s way of telling me I needed to slow down, take pressure of myself, and start taking care of myself. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to change my ingrained habits and beliefs, but I also knew that if I didn’t my body would start screaming louder until I ended up seriously ill. I started by making small changes. I began to gather knowledge from others. I took what worked for me and discarded the rest. I experimented and added in what made me feel well and healthy. Sleep was the first thing I made a priority. I had never realized how important sleep was. It’s the time when our bodies repair and rejuvenate. One good night’s sleep doesn’t help us heal; consistently sleeping well does. Self-care was the next thing I needed to address. I had previously thought self-care meant hour-long bubble baths, a day at the spa, or a week’s vacation in the sun sipping champagne. But I came to realize it didn’t mean any of those things. I realized that the small things I did throughout my day were just as important—like taking five minutes in the morning to meditate before starting my day, making sure I had prepared a nourishing lunch, spending ten minutes cuddling my dogs after work, and reading a chapter of my book before I went to sleep. Small things, consistently done over a long period of time, made for big change. I also realized that my body had been sending me the message that my life had been out of balance for years. But I had lost the ability to tune in, listen, and connect with what it was saying. I started practicing a simple technique that consisted of meditative breathing, scanning my body for discomfort, and then asking what it was trying to tell me. Whenever I would feel discomfort in my body, I would ask myself, “If this pain was an emotion, what would it be?” If I answered “sadness,” I would then ask myself, “What is going on in my life right now to make me feel sad?” I would then use practices, such as journaling, to help me work through, and release, whatever was causing me to feel sad, lonely, or fearful. With time, my emotional well-being improved, and so too did my physical symptoms. So what are the physical signs that your emotional health may need attention? Here are just three examples that you may be able to relate to: 1. Tight, tired, and painful shoulders. When I meet people with this problem, they often have a similar story. They believe that they need to be, and do, everything for everyone. They are literally “carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.” 2. A stiff neck. People with stiff necks have trouble turning their head to one side. They’re often dealing with someone close to them making a choice that they don’t agree with. This decision has hurt them and they are finding it hard to “turn the other cheek.” 3. Back pain. While disc ruptures are not uncommon, most people present with muscle spasms. Again, there is often a deep-rooted emotion playing out behind the scenes. In this scenario, it often pertains to money and finances. Their finances are restricting them from doing the things they want to do (as is their back spasm!) Our minds and body are so closely connected. But in today’s world, where we are so overstimulated, we have become completely disconnected with ourselves. Instead of tuning in to our body to find the answers, we tune into Google. Big life stuff (as I like to call it) happens. There’s no escaping it. Even everyday life can cause us to feel stressed and overwhelmed. If we don’t learn to deal with our emotions in a healthy way, they become boxed up within our body, until they are expressed in physical pain or illness. If you are someone who experiences regular physical pain, and you are aware that your emotional well-being may be one of the reasons for this, then I encourage you to start healing by journaling on the following questions: Does your life feel stressful at the moment, and what is causing you to feel this way? What is one thing you can let go of, even just for now? Do you feel overwhelmed, and what do you keep saying yes to that you could begin saying no to? Are you taking on the emotional loads of others in your life? So often we want to help or fix those close to us, but it’s important to remember that they are on their own journey. Are there any stories from your past that you are holding on to that need releasing? Are “you” last on your list of priorities? If so, how can you make a little more time for yourself? Learning to tune in and listen to your body’s messages is the first step toward preventing long-term physical damage. I encourage you to start doing this now, before it ‘s too late.