A minor health setback last week got my head spinning about a common thread that lies amongst those of us with autoimmune disease on our path to achieving optimal health. So, of course, I HAD to share it with you all. While my original thought process was geared towards those with autoimmune disease, I really think this post will resonate with anyone who is or has battled health issues.
If you listen to my podcast, The Nourished Podcast, then you’ve already heard this story. Let me give a quick recap for those that haven’t tuned in yet (you really should!).
Background: I battle two autoimmune diseases — ulcerative colitis which has been in non-medicated remission for almost a year and hashimoto’s thyroiditis which I was recently diagnosed with and still learning how to manage. To read more about my story, go here, here, and here!
The past few weeks I have had more than my usual amount of stress. Not so much physically, although maybe my workouts were a little tougher; definitely mentally, as it’s just part of the game when you work for yourself and are trying to build a strong, healthy business; and the biggest one…emotionally. Things in my personal life began making me overthink things, become anxious, and just stress out!
I’ve worked really hard over the last year to keep my stress level in check because I’ve realized that just THAT, in itself, will keep me well and my diseases in remission. But, as is normal in life, I got thrown off track. I am, by nature, a worrier and bumbling stress-case and I let my old demeanor seep back in.
As this shift in mentality happened, so did my change in health status. I went from feeling ‘normal’ and just pretty darn good all around, to feeling ‘off’. I began noticing symptoms of BOTH diseases — something I hadn’t seen in months. I was rundown, emotional, weak, and confused.
But, in all reality, it made perfect sense. Because while I was doing everything right to maintain my health with my diet, exercise, and lifestyle, my MINDSET had changed. And that’s just as — if not more so — important as everything else. It’s a piece of the puzzle that needs to be in place for optimal health. And it’s also the hardest one for most of us to acknowledge, work on, and keep in alignment.
OK, so full disclosure. Since figuring the mindset piece of the puzzle out, I can now connect it to EVERY other autoimmune flare I have had over the course of the years. They’ve all been surrounding major life events that caused me a lot of stress, emotion, anxiety, and decision-making. There were bad relationships, ridiculously stressful jobs, and major life changes. All things that would make me overthink, worry, and just stress myself out.
But, it’s now all come together for me. And I’ve realized…I am not alone.
Since starting my nutritional therapy practice, I have had the great pleasure of working with many clients who are also dealing with autoimmune diseases. We go in to detail surrounding their diagnosis, treatment, symptoms, flare ups, and remissions. Every client’s story is quite a bit different, as they navigate their way through their own health journey. But there’s something that stands out quite noticeably for me as a common thread…the mindset.
We are over thinkers.
We are worriers.
We are hard on ourselves.
We are emotional.
We are stressed.
Why do these characteristics cause us illness? Simple: The gut-brain axis.
There’s a bit of a path to follow with this. First, it’s becoming quite common knowledge that gut health and autoimmune disease are highly correlated. It also is well-known that a highly stressed out, emotional individual would be more susceptible to poor gut health. So the path is pretty easy to follow, but let’s look at it in more detail.
Those feelings of anxiety, nervousness, non-stop thinking, and negative emotion lend themselves to creating a highly stressed state for both your mind and body. Being in this state more than just occasionally leads to a constant need for your adrenals to release cortisol — the stress hormone. (For a more in depth look at this stress response, head here.) When the need for cortisol becomes a fairly constant thing, it disrupts the communication signals between your hypothalamus, your pituitary, and your adrenals. Together, these 3 organs are imperative to maintaining homeostasis in all aspects of our health. So, a dysfunction in the HPA axis leads to a whole host of issues including sleep disruptions, hormone imbalances, and…wait for it…impaired gut health!
Yes, our response to stress and the health of our gut are so incredibly connected! First, stress has been shown to have a negative impact on our gut flora. The balance of good and bad bacteria that dictate our health status on every level, can get thrown off in the presence of stress, causing the bad bacteria to outnumber the good. This is known as dysbiosis. This causes a stressed out person to be way more susceptible to digestive diseases such as IBS, IBD, SIBO, peptic ulcers, and GERD. Emerging science also shows that changes in the gut microbiome (those good and bad bacteria I mentioned above) are linked to autoimmune disease.
Secondly and equally as important, stress affects the integrity of your gut lining, causing it to become weaker and more permeable. This means leaky gut! (For more info on what exactly leaky gut means, read this.) The presence of a ‘leaky gut’ is almost always found in those with autoimmune disease. It’s one of the three things that predisposes individuals to these diseases, with a genetic predisposition and environmental triggers completing the triad.
To put the relationship simply, let’s think about it this way. When your gut becomes leaky, it allows foreign substances to pass through to the blood stream. Your immune system does what it is meant to do and goes under the attack, in an effort to prevent these invaders from hurting you. This puts your immune system into a hyper state, and for some of us, this leads to it’s continued attack — but this time, on our actual organs.
So, you see?? I really don’t think these personality traits that so many of us autoimmune fighters have in common are just coincidence. I think there is something to the fact that so many of us are stressed out, emotional individuals that end up having to deal with flare-ups the moment things go a little haywire in our lives.
I also find that with a lot of us dealing with autoimmune disease, the stress of having the disease and trying to figure out what to do to get into remission is enough to send us into a flare! Because we have these personality traits, it is innate within us to want to try to figure it all out, do the endless research, try every little change, notice every little symptom, overthink what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Just that thought process in itself is enough to send us in a downward health spiral!
While I find that many with autoimmune diseases are SO great at changing their eating habits, moderating their workouts, taking the necessary supplements, and doing the research, but not enough of us are CHANGING OUR MINDSETS!
What do we do? How do we manage our mindsets to keep ourselves well?
Like I mentioned before when recalling my own experiences, I have been able to find a way to manage my own mindset and am now relaying that message to my autoimmune clients within my practice and right here with you! While changing our personalities is just impossible, learning how to reframe your thoughts and manage stress are very doable and effective at putting yourself into remission and staying there.
7 mindset habits to make a part of your daily life from now until forever!
Anything that allows you to connect your breath to both your body and your mind will immediately take your stress level down several notches. While I have found both a regular yoga practice and nightly meditation to be the equation that works for me, find your own path that will get you to a place of mental peace. I have noticed a significant difference in my mental state throughout the day when I make meditation a priority…even though I’m terrible at it! It doesn’t have to look or feel perfect to be effective.
Pick up a calming hobby
Coloring, knitting, reading, writing, painting, etc. Anything that will take your brain power and put it towards something else entirely besides what’s currently going on in your life. Because more than likely, whatever is currently taking your brain power can’t be changed anyways, even if you are thinking about it constantly (yep, I’ve been there too).
There is no better stress reliever than movement! Just move in a way that sounds really good to you! It could be a walk around the block, a quick yoga session in your living room, or picking up a heavy barbell a few times (my personal favorite). It doesn’t matter what it is, just do it for at least 20 minutes most days of the week. I find that a lot of people battling autoimmune disease are afraid to workout for fear that it will cause a flare. It won’t, I promise. As long as you are in tune with your body and know when enough is enough. If you need help with this, PLEASE contact me.
Practice the art of LETTING GO
This is a big one and SO hard sometimes. I’m pretty sure for 33 years of my life, I didn’t let anything go. I don’t even think I knew what those words meant. I held on to every scenario, every emotion, every thought, every feeling, and just kept THINKING. It wasn’t until I was so sick and needed to change EVERYTHING that I finally adopted this mentality. You just have to let things go. You just do. I don’t know how else to put it. Everything happens for a reason. You can’t change the past or predict the future. All you can do is enjoy the present. So, do just that! Don’t waste another moment of your life being scared, worried, upset, frustrated, or wishing for change. You’re going to be just fine and when you are, you’re going to be happy that you didn’t waste a moment wishing things were different. LET GO.
Another one that at times feels so impossible. Because somewhere along the way of life, we were conditioned to put ourselves down instead of lifting our spirits up. It’s now so hard for many of us to look in the mirror and say ONLY nice things about what we see. Those negative thoughts creep in. Positive self-talk is the only way develop true peace within yourself, which in turn is the only way to obtain lasting health. In someone dealing with an illness or disease, especially one which has caused their physical appearance to change, this can be difficult. It can be hard to find love and gratitude for the vessel (your body) that has caused you to be sick in the first place. But, that’s exactly what we must do. Because there are a million things that your body does RIGHT everyday that you should be really grateful for — it is carrying you through this amazing world and allowing you to live life! Although you may not feel or look like yourself right now, it WON’T be this way forever. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. Just changing this frame of reference, will ease the negativity, stress, and emotion you are currently holding on to about YOURSELF. Because we should never feel that way towards the one person who is always with us….US.
Be social and laugh!
It can be easy to want to hole up and cut ourselves off from the world when we aren’t feeling so good. When I was going through my flares, I spent too much time alone while my friends were all hanging out and having fun without me. And yes, while I wasn’t feeling great, I was still able to leave the house and connect with people. I just was choosing not to because I was sad, frustrated, and just down about a lot of things. While I can’t get those moments back, I CAN make it different now. Because now I can see that just being around people I love and having good conversations that make me laugh would’ve gotten me in a better place much quicker! As we all know…laughter is the best medicine. Just being social and having an enjoyable time immediately settles your stress response, boosts your immune system, calms your nerves, and eases anxiety. It’s in the times when we least feel like laughing that we need it the most. So, call up your friend with the most jokes and go have a good laugh!
Just chill out already!
You don’t have to solve all of your world’s problems today or ever, and you don’t have to cure yourself and get back to normal today. I know it would be great to be back to your old self tomorrow, but stressing over doing everything right isn’t going to get you there any quicker. If you’re following a particular diet to get you into remission, please don’t freak out if you slip up on it! You’re going to be JUST FINE. I promise. The ‘scared’ mentality surrounding diet, lifestyle, activity level, and just life in general MUST go. Please, just chill out already!
It’s really THAT important.
To round out my own story from last week…as soon as I recognized what was happening, I put all of the above tools to use. Within a week, I was back to feeling great and my symptoms were gone.
It really is THAT effective and THAT important to incorporate these mindset activities into your daily life. Focusing on them in combination with working to restore the integrity of your gut lining and rebalancing your gut flora will be the keys to putting you into long-term remission!