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Posts Tagged ‘health anxiety’

worried-woman-with-doctor-patient-breast.jpg All of us have felt vulnerable in our bodies at some point in our lives, especially during an illness, fleeting or chronic, or as part of the normal process of aging. But what do you do when you find yourself preoccupied excessively with health concerns?

In mindful eating, we often talk about “inner” and “outer” wisdom, as in: listening to the cues from the natural feedback system of our bodies, and consulting reputable, solid resources in our community. Sometimes, however, life feels overwhelming. When it comes to food, we are often flooded (via the Internet, popular media, sometimes by well-intentioned friends, family members, or even providers) with too much – or conflicting – advice about what is “good” or “bad.” Similarly, our minds can become flooded with thoughts of anxiety, especially when we are struggling with some aspect of our physical experience. After all, it’s not as if we can leave our bodies entirely (even if “checking out” is a strategy you might use, from time to time). As someone who is recovering from an inner ear condition that has caused symptoms of vertigo, I can relate to feeling off-balance (literally) and sometimes out of control in my body. But how do we decipher all of these confusing messages from mind-body, respond effectively, and not get lost in our fears?

Whether it relates to making skillful food choices (what/how/why do I want to eat), or navigating medical conditions such as chronic pain, diabetes, or heart disease, the S.T.O.P. exercise can help when you begin to feel lost:

  • Stop what you are doing. In the parenting world, we used to talk about taking a “time out,” but a more helpful approach is often allowing a “time in” – with yourself. Go to the bathroom, shut your office or bedroom door, pull over to the side of the road. Do what you can, within your power, to pause for several moments.
  • Take a breath (one complete in-breath, followed by one complete out-breath). You know what? Go wild and crazy – take two, or three!).
  • Observe – what thoughts are you noticing right now? Emotions? Sensations in the body? This isn’t the time for an analysis or dissection of your experience, but the equivalent of putting your head out the window to gauge the current “weather” system. Your weather system. Also, do you find yourself wanting a particular part of your experience to go away right now, or are you feeling curious and interested? There are no “wrong” answers. Whatever information you discover is useful.
  • Proceed forward, perhaps toward something that is in line with your values (completing a task, connecting with a loved one, attending to your body in some way). Not sure what to do? Take a few more breaths, notice what happens in your mind and body, and then see if a choice becomes clear.

Repeat as needed. These are the kinds of skills I love to teach clients, whether to navigate food, health issues, or other life stressors more effectively. Remember, sometimes we can’t change the occurrence of experiences we are having, but we can learn to work with them differently and respond in a way that reduces our suffering.

 

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