It can be difficult to heal the body without also addressing the mind and spirit – or, thoughts and emotions – especially when dealing with ongoing ailments. I’ve seen this over and over again, from inflammatory bowel disease to headaches to high blood pressure. The body “speaks” through symptoms to express your feelings and thoughts, despite attempts to bury them.
Sometimes, a shoulder pain will resolve once a person embraces the grief they feel over a loved one. Or, belly aches calm down when a person starts to recognize the worry they feel. Or, blood pressure will normalize when a person faces their anxiety about an upcoming event.
As Hippocrates said, “It’s far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has.” In this way, your symptoms are personal. They are not just physical, but are intertwined with matters of the heart.
Medically, most physicians understand stress is the No. 1 precursor to illness. But we are not formally taught in medical school or residency how to actually help someone address stress. That sort of training came afterwards for me, and really through life itself. Just a few years ago, Dr. Jacob Liberman told me, “When approaching matters of the heart, I find it best to be gentle, like handling a baby.” I love this line because I find it’s a very loving way to approach yourself.
When I was in medical school, I learned to be tough by suppressing any emotions I dealt with, even if we worked in hospitals tackling life and death issues on a regular basis. In my third year of medical school, I started having burning reflux symptoms that would keep me up at night even if I desperately needed sleep. I was prescribed some antacids, which squelched the discomfort but didn’t address my stress. This didn’t start to calm until my second year of residency when I learned how to breathe again, in a way, with yoga. After that, focusing on my breathing helped me make it through the regular crises we faced in the hospital.
Over time, I also learned that being tough did not mean squashing my emotions. It was more important to be OK with them. By not judging my thoughts and feelings, and just letting my self BE… It was so freeing. And having compassion for my fellow human beings was definitely not something I wanted to bury.