When your body is uncertain
Picture this: One of your body’s organs is spasming. It’s spewing mucus, hurting, and giving you chills, fever, and aches. You’d be anxiously at urgent care in a hot minute, right?
Except what if it’s a cold? Your lungs and body are just doing their job: trying to encase and eliminate the virus that caught you unawares.
It’s easier to tolerate colds because you know their expected course. While your brain and body might stress over what you can’t get done, you trust you’ll be back on course in a week or so.
When your body is uncertain
Unknown illnesses are more unsettling. Many of my clients mention dark nights when a new unknown symptom/ fear spirals them into a morass of deep worries about their lives and the future.
I watched myself in the illness journey a few weeks ago, going from the no big deal annoyance of a cold to the scary land of What IF!!?? when it continued longer than expected. (I’m fine now.)
It’s a deeper struggle for some of my clients and those I care about. For some, they may feel the trauma of an uncertain diagnosis like cancer or long Covid.
For others, the struggle is symbolic, reflecting something deeper: a change of identity as children launch; isolation from lack of community or spiritual life; intergenerational parental fear of illness years before; uncertainty about direction of their own life.
Anxious and okay
I honor these fears, whether they’re from a scary medical journey or reflection of something else.
While a simple resting tool won’t cure the underlying fear, I’m sharing some ways that might help redirect energy away from despairing panic. Perhaps some of your stress might release, your body can rest for a nano second, or you might have a sense you’re not going through it all alone.
Pay attention to where the anxiety shows up in your body. Maybe your stomach is knitted into a knot, your shoulders are up at your ears, or you’re barely exhaling.
It takes courage to soothe your body when it feels that being on high alert is critical. Still, perhaps you can put a hand on your belly, roll your shoulders, or take a slightly longer exhale. You can access many more resources when your body isn’t as contracted.
Notice (kindly, gently, and for just moments) if another feeling accompanies the anxiety. Maybe you feel sad about all you might miss out on, or angry at doctors who didn’t treat you well. Let your body express a bit of that grief or anger with your imagination.
See yourself in a safe place. (If you’re a trekkie, a holodeck; or a natural scene remembered or imagined.) Imagine yourself crying or yelling, maybe running or fighting if that feels safe. Notice any shifts in your body as you release inner grief or anger. The purpose is to go slowly—not to ramp up into a different spiral. Instead be curious if another emotion needs attention and care. No need to fix anything, just allow your multi-layered self to shift.
Allow uncertainty. When you’re waiting to hear from the doctor about your blood tests, it’s easy to imagine the worst “what-if.” Our minds like story arcs and sometimes you get a case of internetitis—my name for symptom doom-scrolling.
Instead, allow the discomfort of uncertainty. Right now, you don’t know. Uncomfortable, and also okay.
You can also imagine resources holding you. Can you feel the bark of your favorite tree? Perhaps the smell, sound, and touch of your happy spot in nature. Experiencing how those who love you care for you. Noticing what’s bigger than you—the miracle of nature, a higher power, the Divine. Perhaps you can express both appreciation and ask for help and support.
As always, I’m happy to hear if you use these tools, how it goes for you.
Your emotional, physical, and spiritual journeys may be sad, joyous, maddening, loss-filled, uncertain, a door opening. Let the destinations unfold in their time, as best you can. And be kind to yourself no matter how you travel.