Chronic Illness and the Crucial Act of Connecting with your Body

I will never have this version of me again. Let me slow down and be with her.

Rupi Kaur

The most important and pivotal change I’ve made in this life has been establishing a practice of connecting with my body. The last few years really threw me out of whack – I was dealing with grief, trauma, chronic illness – and the global pandemic didn’t help either. You see, when dealing with any of the things I just listed, the body has a natural response. Our brain sends signals that in turn affect our emotions, our social interactions, our productivity and our physical sensations (don’t worry, I won’t go all “science” on you. I’m not a psychologist and that’s the gist of my knowledge). When even a single one of these is off, it’s going to alter the state of our body – both physically and mentally. And when more than one area is off, or you’re experiencing multiple triggers at once, you’ll find yourself in a constant state of struggle. And that’s exactly where you would’ve found me a year ago today. 

A year ago, we were in the throes of a global pandemic, which had enough stress, anxiety and struggle associated with it, but that’s not the only traumatic and life-altering event I was experiencing. My chronic illness was wreaking havoc on my daily life. I was struggling to get through the day and in a constant state of panic over my symptoms and my health. I felt very lost and confused. Not only did I not know where to turn, but I also felt like I had lost control of myself – the one thing you’re supposed to be able to control. 

Watching your body change and struggle and being unable to do anything about it is a scary thing in and of itself. It’s even scarier when you don’t know why it’s happening. My fear turned into frustration. It felt like my body was rejecting and abandoning itself. I was angry with my body for struggling. I was angry that I couldn’t fix it. I was angry that it was happening to me. And what did these emotions do to me? They disconnected me from myself. My mind and body were no longer working as one. 

Losing the connection between my body and mind didn’t only result in an increase in anxiety and stress, but I also constantly felt “out of it.” You know those days where you just don’t feel like yourself? You feel drained, agitated and easily triggered? Most often, when we’re feeling disconnected from the world around us, it means we’re also disconnected with ourselves. Not only was the world around me spiraling out of control, but so was the universe that made up “me.” And there’s no way to move forward when you’re stuck in that state.

In order for me to move forward and get myself out of that space, I had to make the conscious decision to do whatever it took to restore my mind, body and soul to their true state. 

There is no “one” way to connect with your body. It looks and feels different for everyone. And it’s not something you learn in a day. After a year of focusing on establishing a strong connection with my body, I’m still learning new ways to do so and identifying new emotions that show up. Connecting with your body is a continuous practice. It doesn’t start and end on the moment you discover that connection. You dedicate yourself to doing it on a regular basis. In doing so, it becomes not only a healthy coping mechanism but also an act of preventative care. If you’re regularly connecting with your body, you’re less likely to fall into states of stress, anxiety and panic. 

That’s not to say that the stress and anxiety go away – unfortunately, they don’t (if anyone figures out how to make them completely disappear, let me know). But, with a healthy connection between the body and mind, you’re able to move through those difficult thoughts and emotions in a healthy, productive way. 

So where’s the best place to start? In my opinion, and from my personal experience, the best thing you can do is carve out time each day (even if it’s only 5-10 minutes) to spend time with yourself. Check in with you – what emotions are coming up today? What thoughts are clouding your mind? Where are you struggling? And where are you making progress? 

This could look like so many different things, depending on who you are, what your world looks like, and where you’re most at peace or feel most like yourself. Maybe you dedicate the first 30 minutes after coming home from work to a yoga practice and a meditation. Maybe your week is just a little too busy for that but you can still spare 5 minutes before making your commute home to take deep breaths and decompress. Maybe you open up your journal while tucked into bed and pour your thoughts out onto the page, making the world feel a little lighter before you fall asleep. Is nature your thing? Maybe you take a nice, quiet walk by yourself and focus on listening to the sounds around you. Or just sit outside, taking deep breaths of fresh air to connect your internal world to the world around you. 

The possibilities are endless – it’s just a matter of finding what drives your soul and brings you back to yourself. To me, this looks like moving my body in gentle, restorative ways – like a yoga practice, a walk or massaging areas of my body that feel tense. It looks like finding stillness in moments throughout my day, whenever I notice my heart rate increasing or my mind racing. In these moments, I take deep breaths, put on calming music or practice a moment of mindfulness by looking out the window or noticing other things my senses are picking up. It looks like cracking open my journal whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or experiencing difficult emotions – and when I’m experiencing positive emotions as well (it’s important to acknowledge progress and joy!).

Through all of these practices, I established a stronger connection with my body – which has helped me immensely while experiencing chronic illness. Instead of feeling frustrated when my illness is acting up, I’m able to feel self-compassion and be gentle with both my body and mind. I’ve become mindful of all the amazing things my body can do – from doing everything it can to heal itself to experiencing chronic pain and still making it through the day. It felt like coming home to myself and my body. 

Our bodies are our home. They deserve our attention, our appreciation and our care. Connecting with your body is a never ending practice. You will continuously make new connections and learn new things about yourself. There is always more to discover. It’s a miraculous journey that will never end. You will always have yourself to come home to. 

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