Throughout my career in medicine as a physician, physical therapist, and patient, I’ve recognized that total body wellness requires the healing of our physical, mental, and spiritual selves.
All three aspects are affected by trauma or disease, and unless they’re functioning optimally, with synchronicity, some part of our being is unbalanced, and the whole self suffers.
The natural or passive inclination is to let time heal the physical body and hope the other two components follow suit. But in fact, there are simple steps we can take to hasten the recovery of the whole body.
In previous blog posts, I discussed the effects of the grieving process following the June 10th tragic shooting of a dear friend, Christina Grimmie, following her performance with Cade and Before You Exit at the Plaza Live in Orlando. As a victim of one psychopath’s actions, Christina paid the ultimate price of death, and her family and fans have suffered physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The trauma of losing a loved one begins taking its physical toll immediately. Shock alone can have acute manifestations to the body, including loss of sleep and exhaustion. These in turn can lead to illness from immunosuppression, even becoming the stimulus inciting other disease processes.
Doctors have long known of how fatigue and stress can weaken our immune system making the body vulnerable to other assaults.
In the aftermath of trauma, it is important to rest the body, maintaining a normal sleep cycle or circadian rhythm. As we notice ourselves feeling more tired than usual, perhaps a nap or “turning in” an hour earlier than usual may be in order. Likewise, allowing ourselves the benefit of sleeping longer than usual may be what the body needs.
We should avoid adding things to our “to do” list, allowing that there’s always time later, and considering, “How important is it really?” In addition to rest, the physical body also needs proper exercise and nutrition. The benefits of exercise in decreasing stress are well-documented. Following any kind of trauma, our schedules can easily become irregularly chaotic.
Finding time for exercise is important, especially if we are accustomed to regular workout routines. But even a brief walk can have calming effects, reducing stress; it also releases the body’s natural endorphins, enhancing mood.
It’s not uncommon following trauma or the loss of a loved one that we lose our appetite. This can occur as a response to sadness or situational depression. Conversely, overeating or indulging in our favorite foods is a stress response, usually disguising or hiding uncomfortable feelings.
It’s beneficial during these times to adhere to a regular and balanced diet. Accordingly, it’s important to share the feelings with someone we trust rather than suppressing them.
The night before June 10, I had only slept about five hours, and I didn’t sleep again until late morning of June 11. I had to be reminded to eat, but still had little appetite for 4 to 5 days. Finally, after encouragement from others, some members of my family and I forced ourselves to walk around a lake.
It helped to trigger a slight amount of hunger while reducing some anxieties, allowing us to later sleep, albeit intermittently⎯a step toward normalcy.
One of the best ways of caring for the mind is to process feelings with others. Emotions of anger, sadness, fear, or desperation are natural and never right or wrong. But sharing them with a trusted friend or relative is much healthier than denying them or holding them in, stuffing them only to have them arise later or be misdirected onto others.
Regardless of how we process our feelings, it’s critical that we avoid blaming or shaming ourselves by assigning a moral value judgment to them. There is no correct emotional response to trauma or pain; we can’t control our feelings any more than we can control the weather.
It’s also natural to feel anger at all the hate that seems to be permeating our world these days. The way we respond is something we can control, including channeling the resultant fury into constructive measures that can affect a positive change. And the world is watching.
Our demonstration of faith in the midst of uncertainty can foster hope. And this is how we can begin to heal our spiritual selves.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
There are numerous ways we can begin to heal our spiritual selves. Setting aside a few moments for prayer or meditation yields rewards that multiply exponentially. I prefer sharing my fears, concerns, or feelings of gratitude, talking with God, my creator, as I would a friend.
It’s also helpful to read from a devotional book, which can be inspiring and offer comfort. The spiritual part of our being is something that makes us unique children of God.
Spirituality is the aspect of self that identifies us, as human beings with God. It’s not to be confused with religion, which usually refers to an organized institution expressing one type of belief in a divine power.
While religion may be an organization or way through which some of us choose to express our beliefs, the individual way we nurture our relationship with Yahweh (His personal name) is key to healing the spiritual self.
The way we enhance that relationship is personal to each of us, but for me, it’s an affirmation of my beliefs and vitally intrinsic to my overall health, relieving pain.
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S. Lewis
As I worship Him, my kinship with Him grows in strength; so does my faith, or confidence and trust that He is in charge⎯the Captain of my ship. As I rely on His word (the Truth), my spirit is comforted knowing that I can turn my will and life over to Him.
That goes a long way toward giving me peace and stability in an ever-changing, sometimes chaotic world. God is a constant, unchanging, and trustworthy presence that has always been, is, and will remain.
The three vital components of self are all affected by our pain and grief. Likewise, all three cry to be healed and need attending to as the entire self begins restoration. This has been a reminder, along with some suggestions or ways to optimize the healing process. Hopefully I’ve provided a starting point, but further resources are endless.
What has been your experience with these three areas of self when tragedy strikes? What is a way you have learned to keep your whole self healthy? Share your thoughts with a comment below.