Stop Stressing Out! It’s Making You Sick!

“The healing system has already failed if a malignant cell is able to give rise to a detectable tumor.”

This quote is from the book Spontaneous Healing by Andrew Weil M.D. That sentence really spoke to me (his whole book is good though). My healing system (immune system) failed a long time before I even knew it. “Failed” is a strong word. I prefer “my immune system wore out.” And mine wore out because I didn’t take care of myself.

Dr. Weil’s theory is that the human body is made to heal itself but in order to do that it requires daily maintenance; healthy food choices, exercise, rest and some sort of spiritual practice. How many of us are guilty of eating junk food, not getting enough sleep, feeling stressed, and living a sedentary lifestyle? I know I was guilty of all four, although at the time, I thought I was taking care of myself. It took a cancer diagnosis to wake me up to how wrong I was.

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I have no idea how long cancer had been living inside me. It doesn’t matter. What matters to me now is to learn from my mistakes (choices) and do better this time. Our immune systems are made to seek out foreign invaders and kill them, but they need proper care to do their job. Foreign invaders can be anything toxic, like the environment we live in, the water we drink, the food we eat and drugs. After a while all those toxins build up in our body and disease of all kinds make their home inside us. Stress is a big factor when it comes to getting sick. Think about it. If you’re stressed, you won’t eat right, you won’t exercise and you won’t sleep. Why? Because you’re too busy being stressed out!

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What makes us so stressed out? First of all stress can be a good thing, it get’s us out of bed in the morning and keeps us motivated, but bad stress is when we have too much going on; too many obligations and not enough time to do them all. I know I’m feeling stressed when I am grumpy. Look at all those drivers speeding down the freeway, going in and out of traffic. That’s what stress looks like. We make bad decisions when we are stressed (at least I do anyway).

One of the most common words I hear from cancer patients is, “I don’t have time to be sick.” I said the same thing. My cancer diagnosis was my “wake up” call that my time here on this planet is limited and I better start making choices that will help me stick around as long as I can.

Here’s another quote from Dr. Weil’s book:

“Seek out people who have experienced healing so that their recovery can become your reality.”

This is so important! As soon as I was released from the hospital, I looked online for survivors. I will be honest, there weren’t many with my type of cancer, so I looked for other cancer survivors. It didn’t matter to me if theirs was different. I wanted to hear success stories and find out what they did. I was open to all suggestions and then decided which ones resonated with me.  When others ask me what I did to heal my immune system, I always make sure they understand my choices worked for me and they should figure out what works for them.

When I telI people that I became vegan overnight their eyes glaze over. They say, “I like my burgers!”  I completely understand that vegan is not for everyone but we can all eat fresh foods made without additives. We can all get moving by walking, yoga, dancing or whatever turns YOU on!  The key is to find something or even more than one thing that you can commit to. And it has to be fun otherwise what’s the point? We can all put down our electronic devices for twenty minutes a day and focus on our breath. We have to make time for ourselves and that means saying “no” to people sometimes.

As a female I understand that it can be hard to tell someone no, but for the sake of your health, you have to. If it makes you feel better, you can say, “I have another commitment,” knowing that commitment is to spend time with your self. Taking time out during the day will help manage stress and isn’t that the goal? The world will not stop because you choose your sanity over helping someone do something you don’t want to do.

I had to say “good bye” to some toxic people in my life when I was going through treatment. I came to the conclusion that sometimes the “pit” I felt in my stomach was not from my medication but was from the person I was with. Spending time with those who constantly complain about anything and everything is not good for you. Everyone has problems now and then, it’s called “life,” but there are some who not only have constant problems they seem to enjoy creating them.  If you have someone like that in your life, get rid of them. Your health depends on it.

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A spiritual practice is personal and can be different for each of us. It doesn’t have to be religious. You don’t even have to believe in a Supreme Being. It’s whatever resonates with you. Whatever brings you peace is right for you. For me it’s meditation. It’s reading positive books, blogs and essays. My church is nature. I feel my heart rate slow down when I spend time sitting under a tree. You find what works for you.

Changing your life to include time for yourself, exercising and eating healthier foods will help keep your immune system stronger. It’s working for me and I’m sure it will help you.

Be Well and Happy!

Ingebird

 

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Spontaneous Healing

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The last time I read Spontaneous Healing by Andrew Weil M.D. was probably sixteen years ago. It was right after I graduated from massage school. From the first day of class I was hooked on massage and alternative healing/medicine. I also had a part time job at a massage kiosk located inside a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco. The booth was next to the “Whole Body” department, so in between customers, I learned as much as I could about herbs and supplements by asking questions from the staff. There was also a nice selection of books they let me read in my booth.

Dr. Weil has been around since the 70s. He has a medical degree and has written several books about alternative medicine and the mind/body connection. I am in the middle of Spontaneous Healing again and came across an idea asserted by Dr. Weil to “view all illnesses as a gift.” This isn’t the first time I heard someone say that illnesses (like cancer) can be seen as a gift, because having it changes the person’s life (usually). I do agree that cancer did change my life on all levels but I won’t refer to my cancer episode as a gift. I got plenty of weird gifts in my life, so if getting rectal cancer was a gift, it was a pretty crappy one (pun intended).

In 1986, my dad died at the age of fifty-six from heart disease, which sent me into what I call, a “spiritual crisis.” After a couple of months of being in a “funk,” I went to see a shrink. She gave me several self-help books which led me into reading spirituality books. Back then the western medical profession considered such writings as “New Age” psychobabble, but was becoming more accepted by mainstream America. Western medicine still won’t acknowledge the mind/body connection when it comes to disease, except for a small percentage of doctors.

Cancer was not a gift for me but it was my “wake up” call. Even when I was working as a massage therapist and eating vegetarian, I didn’t focus on my whole self. Stress was something I constantly dealt with. I did visit the Zen Center a couple times a month to sit Zazen but I didn’t practice it on a daily basis at home. We left the City and moved to Chico, thinking that it would be quieter there. It was, but I still felt stressed out. During that time the economy tanked. My hours were cut at the restaurant I worked at. Massage wasn’t as popular in Chico as in San Francisco, so I stopped doing that. We moved again to Southern California thinking jobs would be better there. I ended up working three part time jobs which caused more stress for me. I didn’t eat fresh home cooked meals. Who had the time?

Then cancer  hit me. That changed everything. I did what everyone does who has been diagnosed.  I wanted to know why I got cancer. I thought I was healthy. The truth is I convinced myself I was but my lifestyle proved otherwise. Dr. Weil also writes how stress is a major player when it comes to us getting sick. That I agree with. It’s been proven that stress lowers the body’s immune system. When the immune system is lowered for a long period of time, all kinds of diseases develop because the body’s defense system is to weak to fight them off.  Throw in a diet that comes from a package, that has no nutritional value and you have a recipe for cancer.

Luckily, I didn’t dwell on the “why me?” question to long and instead looked for answers as to how to start from where I was at. Everything on the Internet I read about healthy living was really not news to me. It was in the books I read years before, but at the time, I guess it didn’t sink in. It looked good on paper but I didn’t put it into action in my own life. Now I get it. There is no going back to my old habits.  Meditation, yoga, exercise, mindfulness, and plant based foods are part of my daily life. My stress is almost nonexistent. I got the message loud and clear and for that I thank cancer… sort of.

Live Well and be Happy!

Ingebird