A chronic illness can create a challenging relationship with your body.
Many chronic illnesses are caused by autoimmunity, which is sometimes described as "the body attacking itself." Cancer can be chronic and this is when a person’s own cells become malignant and start overpowering healthy cells. Other chronic illnesses cause slow debilitation over time as the body fails you. All of these factors can make you feel like you are at war with your body.
But what if it didn’t have to feel like a battle?
Here are some ways to reframe the way you think about your body to help disarm negative perceptions:
1. Think of the Body and Mind as One.
Your body is you. When a person has a chronic illness there is often a splitting that happens. The body is disconnected from the mind. The mind (or brain) interprets the body as flawed and separate. The deeper truth is that the body-mind-spirit is all one being—you. Work to align your thoughts with the idea that you are not separate from your body.
2. Work to Calm the Nervous System.
Research points to a link between illness and stressful life events. Traumatic life events shift the nervous system into a chronic stress state otherwise known as "fight, flight, or freeze." The nervous system is the mastermind of the body. Calm the nervous system and all of the other systems will benefit. For example, in autoimmune disorders, the immune system is overactive, so calm the nervous system and the immune system will follow.
Calming the nervous system is a challenging endeavor after years in a chronic stress state. Psychotherapy modalities, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) or somatic therapy can help, as well as, meditation.
3. Move Your Body if Possible.
Sometimes due to pain or paralysis it isn't possible to incorporate movement into your daily life, but if you are able, walking, yoga, and light exercise can help you feel connected to your body. It can also help keep joints supple and improve circulation. Bring awareness to the ways that movement benefits you in your daily life.
4. Practice embodiment.
Embodiment is a healing practice that helps integrate the body and mind. As a side benefit it also helps calm the nervous system. Many people live from the "shoulders up," especially those who have discomfort and pain in the body. Embodiment means to experience the physical sensation of being in your body. Start by bringing your attention to your big toe. Notice the shift in your awareness. Notice the feeling of embodying your toe. Body scan meditations are one of the best ways to practice embodiment. You can find thousands of them online. A body scan leads you through noticing and feeling into every part of your body.
5. Celebrate the healthy parts of you.
Every person with chronic illness or disability has body parts that function and some that don’t. As often as possible express gratitude for what is well. What senses do you have? Sometimes the only place you can identify is a tiny cell somewhere in your body—feel into it and send it love.
6. Learn to love the broken parts.
This is perhaps the most difficult to do. Remember that your body is fighting for you in the way it has adapted to know how. Inflammation is a sign of healing. Where it hurts your body is working to heal. In the practice of mindfulness there is a concept called "acceptance." Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up, it means accepting where things are in the present moment. Work on accepting and loving what is.
Every day your chronically ill body is creating miracles. It is working to keep you alive in microscopic ways. Call a truce and make your bodymind a team to face chronic illness together.
"Simplify, simplify.” - Henry David Thoreau
I'm Kerry (She/Her/Hers) and I am a licensed therapist, writer & speaker. This is a positive space focused on how to thrive in any situation and the transformative power of suffering.