Samixa Shah (Diploma in Wellness Coaching Skills)
Wellbeing is the complete integration of body, mind, and spirit – the realization that everything we do, think, feel, and believe has an effect on our state of well-being. Greg Anderson
What to do when you are told you have a long-term health condition?
It can be very frightening and daunting when you are told you have a long-term medical condition. You may immediately start thinking the worst possible scenario and you will have lots of questions in your mind such as:
- Why did I get this condition?
- How will it affect my lifestyle?
- What will I tell my family and friends?
- What did I do wrong?
- Can I do anything to help myself?
In my work as a health and wellbeing coach I have found this last question to be the most important. If you believe you can help yourself then you will certainly be able to do so. If you choose to believe that you will never be well then you will most certainly keep feeling ill and not be able to help yourself.
Louise L. Hay states in her book – You Can Heal Your Life – “I believe we create every so-called illness in our body. The body, like everything else in life, is a mirror of our inner thoughts and beliefs. The body is always talking to us, if we will only take the time to listen. Every cell within your body responds to every thought you think and every word you speak.”
This has also been researched by Dr Masaru Emoto in his experiments with the way crystals formed in frozen water when specific concentrated thoughts were directed toward them. He found that water from clear springs and water that had been exposed to loving words showed brilliant, complex and colourful snowflake patterns. In contrast, polluted water or water exposed to negative thoughts formed incomplete, asymmetrical patterns with dull colours.
His theory is that seventy percent of the body is water and therefore any illness that occurs in the body is related to the water content. He believes that the water or blood in the bodies of the sick is usually stagnant and as a result the body starts to decay and ultimately the brain can stop too. This is why when emotions flow freely throughout the body, one feels a sense of joy and one moves towards physical health. Moving, changing, flowing – this is what life is all about.
Acceptance of a long-term condition
In my work as a pharmacist and health and wellbeing consultant, I often see people who are not able to accept that they will have to live with a lifelong condition. This often causes them a lot of distress since they seem to hold the belief that their whole life will change and they will be labelled as the illness. In these types of cases, people often choose not to find out more about their condition and how they can help themselves. This then results in deterioration of the condition or the person being unwell and not being able to lead a good quality of life.
One of my clients, a woman in her early 60s, had been diagnosed about 5 years prior to seeing me with a lung condition that was not curable and she also had a persistent cough and felt continuously tired. She was happy to deal with this condition and follow the medical profession’s advice initially. She was aware of the mind body connection in health and had surmised that part of her illness had been due to her being unhappy in her job and not being able to discuss her anxiety with her boss. She was forced to leave work due to ill health and she had believed that once she stopped working everything would be fine. Unfortunately, this did not happen and when she came to see me she was very angry that her quality of life was not what she would like it to be. She was not able to go out for a whole day with friends and this made her feel very miserable. She felt that her life was wasted. She was not able to accept that due to her illness she may have to change her expectations of herself and also her attitude to her health issues.
After working with me she came to understand that her belief about ill health was not helping her. She had until now believed that she could only enjoy life if she was one hundred per cent well. As we came to the end of our coaching sessions, she was able to understand that she needed to work with her body and understand when she needed to rest and when she could go out and about. She also realised that she needed some form of creativity to express her anger, sadness and frustration around her health. She therefore decided to paint since she had used art therapy previously and this helped her express her inner emotions, which subsequently helped her physical recovery. She also came to understand that being well did not mean the absence of a long-term health condition but the ability to lead a fulfilling life despite having a long-term health condition. Once she accepted this belief she started having a much better quality of life and is able to live a fulfilling life where she understands what she is able to do and how to pace herself to avoid feeling over-tired or stressed.
How one’s thought processes affects one’s health outcomes
In 1902, James Allen’s book, As a Man Thinketh, a chapter titled Effect of Thought on Health and the Body stated: Disease and health, like circumstances, are rooted in thought. Sickly thoughts will express themselves through a sickly body. Thoughts of fear have been known to kill a man as speedily as a bullet, and they are continually killing thousands of people just as surely though less rapidly. The people who live in fear of disease are the people who get it. Anxiety quickly demoralizes the whole body, and lays it open to the entrance of disease; while impure thoughts, even if not physically indulged, will soon shatter the nervous system.
The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to reflect their inner beliefs. James Allen
Candace Pert rose to prominence as a 27 year old graduate student at The Johns Hopkins Medical School for her discovery of the long sought and highly elusive opioid receptor in 1973.
Her earliest work, while still a graduate student, launched the field of molecular neuropharmacology whereby the receptor mechanisms within the brain that are responsible for the actions of psychoactive drugs could be determined and new drugs created. Her methods subsequently became, and remain, widely used by many researchers to identify and study peptide and hormone receptors. She proved acupuncture-induced pain relief was due to the stimulation of beta-endorphin release, as was bliss from sexual release.
In her book, Molecules of Emotion – The Science behind Mind-Body Medicine, Candace Pert describes how receptors on the surfaces of cells in the body and brain bind with different chemicals to elicit various emotions and reflexes in our bodies.
All receptors are proteins and they cluster in the cellular membrane for the right chemical keys to swim up to them through the extracellular fluid and to mount them by fitting into their keyholes. This process is known as binding and the chemicals fitting onto the receptors are known as ligands. This is also the process by which drugs, alcohol and medicines interact with cells at the cellular level.
To explain this simply, try to think of the cell as being an engine that drives all life, then the receptors are the buttons on the control panel of that engine and a specific peptide (or other kind of ligand) is the finger that pushes the button and get things started.
Every Thought we think creates a Molecule called a Neuropeptide, that Connects to a Cell Receptor Site and Manifests as our Physical Reality. Dr Candace Pert – brain researcher
More recently, scientists have speculated that even behavioural disorders, such as autism, have a biological basis. At the same time, they have been rediscovering the links between stress and health. Today, we accept that there is a powerful mind-body connection through which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioural factors can directly affect our health.
Mind-body medicine focuses on treatments that may promote health, including relaxation, hypnosis, visual imagery, meditation, yoga, and biofeedback.
Over the past 20 years, mind-body medicine has provided evidence that psychological factors can play a major role in such illnesses as heart disease, and that mind-body techniques can aid in their treatment.
In his book, How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body, David Hamilton, writes about how patients given a placebo in medical trials find that the placebo heals them. Being a placebo, it is not supposed to heal – but it does, because patients believe that it is a real drug. In this case, it is actually their mind that heals them not the placebo.
Since the advent of brain-imaging technology, there has been a surge of interest in the placebo effect. In Parkinson’s disease there is an impaired production of a substance called dopamine in part of the brain and this affects movement. Research has shown that patients given a placebo but told that it is an anti-Parkinson’s drug are able to move better. Brain scans have even shown that the brain is activated in the area that controls movement and dopamine is actually produced. The improved movement is not just a ‘psychological’ thing. It is due to a physical release of dopamine in the brain.
It is therefore apparent that the mind has a big impact on our physical body, and hence the thoughts we hold when we are diagnosed with a long-term health condition will definitely impact our health outcomes and overall wellbeing.
If we are able to be optimistic and deal with our experiences in a calm and relaxed manner, then we will definitely feel better and therefore accept our circumstances in a more positive way and try to find solutions to any problems rather than complain.
Being responsible for one’s health
Living with a long-term condition brings challenges and it’s important to have the confidence, support and information to take control of your condition. This is called self-care, which means looking after yourself in a healthy way, whether it’s taking your medicine properly or doing some exercise.
If you have a long-term condition, there are extra things you may need to consider, such as making changes to your diet, different types of exercise or different types of medication you may need to take.
Self-care also means staying active by doing things that are important to you, such as gardening, seeing friends and family, going on holiday, or continuing to work, if possible. It involves looking at what you can do and want to do, rather than what you can’t do.
I was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in May 2012 after 7 months of investigations and first presenting to my GP in November 2011. I remember being very matter of fact and taking everything in my stride when I was first told that I had ovarian cancer and would need to have chemotherapy and surgery.
My first thought had been to protect my family and secondly that I needed to take control of my situation. When I was told that I would need to have 3 cycles of chemotherapy followed by surgery and then 3 more cycles of chemotherapy, I started thinking about what I needed to do to have the time to deal with all this.
The first thing my husband and I did was sort out what tasks could be delegated to others such as cooking, shopping, paying bills etc. and what other things could be put into place so that I could have time to look after myself. Secondly, I informed all my close family and friends of my diagnosis and what the treatment plan would be. I also decided to take time off work while I was undergoing chemotherapy as sick leave which was approved by my GP.
During the time of my treatment and surgery I made a conscious decision not to do anything that was not important or necessary. For example, I did not feel it necessary to go out on shopping trips, go out for a meal which I would normally do with friends, go to the cinema or go out anywhere where I would be in contact with a lot of people. My rationale for this was that if I stayed indoors and relaxed as much as possible my body would have time to heal and recover after each cycle of chemotherapy. I was happy for friends and family to come and visit, however I was selective as to whom I wanted to see. I did not want anyone who was going to be negative or make me feel sad come to see me. I did the same with speaking to people over the phone. I would vet the calls and only speak to people I felt would be positive and encouraging. When friends and family came round, we talked about general things and had a good laugh. We very rarely talked about the cancer or my treatment. I also asked friends who offered to cook for me to bring round different types of foods and this way I made sure I ate wholesome tasty food. I was very lucky that I could eat almost everything because I could taste my food and was not sick or nauseous.
I also continued with my daily meditation practice, prayer and reading of positive books every morning which I had been doing even before I was diagnosed. I still continue with this practice today.
In addition, I made sure I had some quiet time every afternoon by lying in bed and resting. I also listened to positive podcasts and read books around cancer that had a positive message.
I believe that all these measures, and having done a course in mindfulness in 2013 as well as my resolve to stay well and having the belief that I have the ability to heal myself by my thought processes, has helped me stay well and in remission. I am determined to enjoy my life and do whatever I wish to do; however I have also accepted that I get tired more easily and have to try and deal with any stressful situation as soon as possible in order to keep well. I have also made some changes in my lifestyle to support my wellbeing and having accepted these changes has given me a new lease of life.
How talking therapies help
As we have seen the mind-body connection is paramount in one’s overall wellbeing. It is therefore important to feel relaxed and in control over a situation and one of the ways this can be achieved is to be able to talk about one’s experiences and hurdles as well as being able to ask for and accept support from people around us.
MRI studies of talk therapies have shown that neurons in the prefrontal cortex of the brain light up (are activated) and activity in the area that processes painful emotions reduces. Talk therapies help us to view a memory from a new perspective so that we no longer feel pain when we think about something that previously caused us emotional distress.
You may have heard the saying “a problem shared is a problem halved”. It’s true. Sharing your experiences with others and listening to others, both to give and receive support, can be helpful for everyone. Being able to help other people also helps us feel better about ourselves.
The different types of people or organisations you can turn to for support are:
- Self-help or peer support groups
- Self-management courses
- Counselling Organisations
- Patient participation groups – more information from the National Association for Patient Participation.
- Family and close friends
- Your local place of worship
- Health coaching – also referred to as wellbeing coaching, is a process that facilitates healthy, sustainable behaviour change by challenging a client to listen to their inner wisdom, identify their values, and transform their goals into action. (6)
- How you use your brain and how often you use it really matters.
- The brain always produces its own drugs. This is mind over matter at the molecular level.
- Your thoughts create your physical reality.
- You can have a good quality of life and a sense of wellbeing despite having to live with a long-term health condition.
- Your attitude and sense of optimism affects your health.
- Stress has been linked with a number of health conditions so learn to relax and let go.
- Allen James. As a Man Thinketh
- Emotions & Health – The Mind-Body Connection. Accessed June 9th
- Emoto, Masaru. 2005. The Hidden Messages in Water. New York. Atria Books.
- Hamilton, David. 2009. How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body. London. Hay House UK Ltd.
- Hay, Louise L. 2004. You Can Heal your Life. London. Hay House UK Ltd.
- Health coaching. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. Accessed June 9th 2015.
- Pert, Candace B. Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine. New York. Touchstone.
- Your health, your way– Your NHS guide to long-term conditions and self- care. Accessed May 9th
Samixa Shah is a registered pharmacist who now works as a health and wellbeing consultant. She specialises in supporting people with long-term health conditions through her belief that one can live a fulfilling life despite having a long-term health condition. Her experience of working with patients when she worked as a community pharmacist and with healthcare professionals when she worked as a pharmacist consultant, as well as her Diplomas in Life Coaching and Wellbeing Coaching Skills, has given her a wealth of knowledge and tools on how to support people with long-term health conditions.
For further information, please contact Samixa on email@example.com