When our body doesn’t work properly but our mind does, it can be a lethal mix. One of the traps of living with chronic illness and pain is we don’t have the same physical outlets as others, so we can tend to “get stuck in our head”. Thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and information all crowd our headspace, which is not so bad when we’re living a full, active life with lots of things to distract us, but not so great when we’re stuck at home, often in bed, with little distraction.
One of the mistakes I believe I have made over my 20 year experience with illness and pain is allowing myself to get fascinated by my own thoughts and emotions. In the past I have spent hours and days (and possibly years) thinking and analysing and collecting information without doing much with it externally. I’ve even got a number of university degrees to show for it!
Looking into why we behave in certain ways and feel certain things is a natural human drive, I believe. But most people don’t have virtually uninterrupted days, months and years to ponder (read: dwell on) these things. The average person does not have time to become too enthralled in their own thoughts, motivations or information collected in their head. They are too busy going to work, looking after kids, cleaning their homes, gardening, driving, exercising, and attending to all their various commitments. Put simply, they are distracted away from their thoughts and musings.
Distraction is a great tool in managing illness and pain. Sometimes it’s the only one we’ve got! We all use it to one degree or another – sometimes as a tool, sometimes as a hindrance in life. There are innumerable ways to distract our minds, as procrastinators like me will attest to. Psychologists and other health practitioners dealing with the mind use mindfulness and visualisation techniques as forms of positive distraction. These things are far more than just distraction, but one of the bonuses of each method, and partly how they work, is they distract our minds away from an internal focus.
A great book on mindfulness is The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris. Russ outlines some very simple methods for overcoming fear, reducing stress, anxiety and depression. But like so many things, they’re simple, but not easy! Most of us want to dismiss simple methods like mindfulness and deep breathing because we’re sure our problems are so complex they can’t be fixed with something so simple. So we keep searching and make our life more complex – reinforcing our view that we require complex answers for our so-called complex questions. Russ Harris has a different view, and after years of searching, so do I.
Some people with illnesses like CFS, which have unexplained causality and no clear treatment, become completely obsessed with learning about the illness and searching for a cure. I think is a phase for most people early on in any illness diagnosis. We want to know more and we want to find answers. But it’s when we don’t balance this out with other things that we cause ourselves other problems. I believe that much depression and anxiety is caused by our minds getting stuck in a cycle of disempowering statements and conversations. We get stuck in our head and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by what might happen or what has happened in the past. Interrupting these thought patterns with distractions such as music, podcasts, television, reading or exercise has benefited me greatly over time, effectively bringing me back to the present rather than dwelling in the past or future. I particularly use these methods these days to distract myself from pain – severe headaches in my case.
In my next post, we will look at 5 Great Ways to Distract Yourself from Illness and Pain (that are free or almost free), so stay tuned.
Keep Smiling ~ Louise