Thursday, January 21, 2021

Body and Soul - My Journey To Wellness

When I was in the second grade I was diagnosed with a "nervous stomach", what I assume by today's standards would be the equivalent to IBS. It's been a life-long problem and something that I've more or less learned to live with. I've gone through periods when it was worse than at others which I've now learned are known as "flares". Having suffered with this for more than 90% of my life thus far, over time I settled into a state of acceptance that this was just what my body does. I get stressed, my stomach gets upset, my appetite diminishes, and so on and so on. There are a multitude of outcomes with varying extremes. I'll spare you the details.

But then last week something happened that got my attention and shone a light on what I believe is, perhaps, at the core of my health issues. I noticed a post on one of my friend's FB feed. It was a picture, and in the picture was a familiar face, one that I'd not seen for over forty years and hadn't thought of, really, since childhood. What was interesting to me, though, was that not only was the memory of a person I'd forgotten restored within seconds, but it was quickly followed by a few negative emotions. Feelings I'd forgotten, but obviously, based upon their immediate affect, never dealt with. And that was when it hit me. Now bear with me here if this just seems oh-so-obvious to you, but for whatever reason until that moment I never fully understood the mind-body connection, nor did I realize the extent of the impact that our thoughts and memories have on our bodies.

Even though I'd read articles suggesting that our gut is our second brain, it wasn't until that moment that I made the connection between the collective experiences of my lifetime and my overall health. So often when I am dealing with a stressful situation, be it good stress or bad, my appetite will fluctuate. Often on our travels I will only realize I am hungry when Bill suggests its time for lunch, and even then I frequently begin by saying I'm not hungry, until I see or smell food, and then it sets in. It's as if something doesn't connect. At other times I get so busy that I simply forget to eat until late in the day, and as my mind is ALWAYS busy, I forget frequently. The downside to all of  this is that I become so hungry I then become ravenous and eat a large meal late in the day that my body struggles to digest. 

Another issue I've dealt with all of my life is clinching my jaw and grinding my teeth. Often I will be working on a project or reading, when I'll realize that I have been clinching my jaw for a long period of time. This, of course, is an indicator of underlying stress, which is likewise affecting my digestive system. In spite of realizing these actions and their affects, I had never been able to pinpoint the source of my stress. But based upon my experience last week, I think I may be figuring some of that out.

Without going into a lot of detail, my teenage years and even into my twenties and thirties were VERY difficult. The experiences I encountered in those years resulted in my being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Anxiety, mild Generalized Anxiety Disorder and I am likewise a Highly Sensitive Person. Being an HSP doesn't mean I cry a lot, in fact I rarely cry. But what it does mean is that I am easily affected by things such as crowds, bright lights, loud noises, etc. If you're interested in learning more just google "Highly Sensitive People", it will tell you more than you probably care to know. 

In addition to my formal diagnosis, I am INFJ-T on the Meyer's-Briggs Type Indicator Scale, which is the rarest of the personality types and accounts for only 1-2% of the population. I am likewise an Enneagram 5 with a strong 4 wing. They are so close in fact, that I interchange comfortably between them. If you are interested in learning more about the Meyer's Briggs Type Indicator and even want to take a free evaluation, I highly recommend this one. I've taken a number of these tests over the years, and while the result was always the same, I feel that this particular website does a very good job of explaining each of the personality types. I would say that I am definitely an Advocate,  And as I mentioned, I am an Enneagram 5 w 4 on the Enneagram Scale, also known as The Philosopher which I highly relate to. If you are interested in learning more about the Enneagram Scale, I suggest this site, which I believe is produced by the same company. I realize that all of this may sound like a bunch of hullabaloo to you, and I respect that. But for me, taking these assessments has helped me to really come to understand myself and my make-up, and I also find them entertaining. Often when I have some down time I will seek out various online tests, just for kicks and giggles. Sometimes they are enlightening, and often, especially those silly ones on FB,  miss the mark completely! Recently however I came across this fun little test and the results were that my color is GREEN, which made me happy.  You only need to look around here at my little cyber-home, to discover that GREEN and RED are my favorite colors.

Anyway, I feel like I'm starting to ramble here and completely missing the point of this post. In discovering that I (we) carry repressed memories, and repressed emotions as well, I think I am beginning to understand WHY it is that my jaw is clinched so much of the time. And while I realize, being a highly sensitive person, that any number of things can cause me stress in a given day, it just didn't add up. Even collectively, it didn't seem to me that those things would produce the amount of stress I am under. But in consideration of what I discovered last week, it makes sense. I realize now that my current stressors are probably only adding to the collective stress that I've been carrying with me for years. All those memories and emotions tied to unpleasant events in my past, and that's just the things I can recall. It doesn't even take the repressed memories and emotions into account, which makes the level of stress I feel in my body day-to-day much greater. With this in mind, I am looking for intentional ways to reduce stress, as well as working on some ways to deal more affectively with past hurts. I mentioned some of these practices in my post, My Winter Wellness Rhythm, and while I have been successful at implementing some of them, a few of them are still a work in progress.  

One thing I have added to that rhythm is Intermittent Fasting. Without going into a lot of detail because this post is already quite long, Intermittent Fasting is fasting from eating either for a certain amount of hours daily, on certain days of the week, or, for some, even for an extended period of time. While I have fasted religiously in the past, fasting as a regular part of my health routine is not something I have observed. But last week I happened on to a documentary on Prime called Fasting, which explores seven different kinds of fasting and a few of them claim some pretty amazing results. It's a little long, almost two hours, and while I didn't find all of it interesting or relevant, I was impressed with the results that Dr. Jason Fung and Dr. Julie Wai-Shatzel are seeing with their patients. 

Dr. Julie recommends fasting for a period of 12 hours and changing not so much what you eat, but rather when you eat it. It is based upon the Circadian Rhythm that our bodies follow, and encourages eating at optimum times when your body more easily processes and converts calories. The results that both doctors have seen, especially with pre-diabetic and diabetic patients are amazing! I am not diabetic, and my interest in fasting is to reduce my body weight, which I carry primarily around my middle, and to improve my gut health from a physical stand point. But I can tell you that I've been fasting from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for four days now, and I am already less bloated and feel thinner through my mid-section. Seeing results quickly is so encouraging when you take on a new health regiment, and I'm very pleased.  It also hasn't been that difficult since you are asleep for most of the time you are fasting. I would say the most challenging aspect I have had to deal with so far is not making coffee as soon as I get up, which is typically around 5:30. You can drink black coffee without breaking the fast, but unfortunately for me, I tend to like a little coffee with my creamer.

I am implementing some other practices as well, but as this post is already longer than I intended, I'm going to go ahead and close. So what about you? Is stress a major factor in your life day to day? Any fellow jaw-clinchers our there? And if so, what some ways that you reduce or deal with stress? I'm open to considering just anything at this point! I'll be sharing more with you soon about other ways I'm looking to reduce stress and what aspects of my winter wellness rhythm are working.

1 comment:

Katie said...

Oh I can relate to so much of this as a fellow HSP and Enneagram 4 with a 5 wing! Stress feels like a major factor in daily life for me right now. On an intake form for a new doctor this week one of the questions was How do you deal with your stress? It was an enlightening question to think go to's are varied and not always intentional: journal, cry, chocolate, go for a walk, deep breathing. I tend to hold my stress in my shoulders and also find that I'm much more relaxed/less stressed after practicing yoga. I think you've mentioned doing yoga in some of your previous posts? I'm not sure how to share a link but one of my favorite local yoga teachers has been posting classes on youtube since the start of the pandemic and they've been my favorite. I look forward to hearing about how your winter wellness rhythm works for you! I really need to take time to write mine out instead of it just being in my head :)