Holly’s great post on “Feel Better Day” reminded me how it’s so easy when we’re ill–either from a passing cold or a long-term disease–to slip into the emotional dumps. But it’s not necessary to feel blue while your body is healing. In fact, many studies show that the brighter your mood the faster you mend. As someone who has had four colds this season, gets migraines sometimes, and has survived a bout of cancer and chemo, I’ve come up with ways to stay up when my body’s down. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful too.
1) Remember: Your Body Is Sick, Not Your Brain. I’m all for deepening the mind-body connection, but I find it’s crucial to let the stronger one lead the dance. I remind myself that I’m not required to feel sad just because I’m sick and delineate a happy divide between physical aches and pains and emotional ones. You can be in pain and not suffer–or at least not add to the external suffering with a “poor me” monologue in your head. My fourth grade teacher Betsy blew my mind when I hurt my finger one day and she told me to “Try and feel into the pain. Feel it all the way, so much so that you can’t feel the pain.” It was bizarre, but it worked. And changed my life. It’s a very Buddhist way of leaning into reality, and I’ve found it enormously helpful when I feel like my whole body is made of hurt fingers.
2) Take Sensory Care. The normal defenses a well person has against visual, auditory, olfactory, and other kinds of clutter are pretty defeated when you’re sick. Your energies are consumed with getting better, not filtering out. This makes it all the more important to be in a tidy, clean space that smells pleasant (or at least clean), sounds peaceful, and looks nice. Even if you can’t control all of those things, do what you can with your immediate little sick nest–toss the tissues, make the bed (even if you’re in it), put the dishes away, wipe the table down, etc.
3) Ask Yourself: Does This Have Good Energy? It’s not about a value judgment, but it usually works out that some things bring us up and other things bring us down. Years ago I came back from months at a yoga retreat and ended up giving away half my books–I looked at each one and asked myself, Positive or negative? When you’re sick, your energy is already low, and you don’t have energy to waste on artificially “cheering up.” So make sure that the DVDs, TV shows, books, magazines, people, and anything else you encounter brings you up more than down. For example, no “CSI: Special Victims’ Unit” marathons until you’re better (or maybe never?).
4) Eat Clean Food. In addition to boosting your recovery with nutrition, eating well while you’re sick will ensure you don’t have the added “food guilt” mood baggage of pigging out while not exercising. In other words, go for the comfort–soup, pasta, cereal–but not the bacchanal: Save the Haagen Dazs pint and Krispy Kremes for another day.
5) Drink Plenty of Fresh Water. It will not only hydrate you and flush what needs flushing and keep your cells in optimal fighting shape, it will help your brain counteract negativity. Our moods are very dependent on proper hydration and it’s easy to forget to drink when you’re in nap-and-mope mode. But it’s physically essential and emotionally nurturing. When I was in chemo they had me drinking obscene amounts of water and it not only kept me less toxic but helped me feel more in the flow and connected to a natural, healing element.
6) Look at Beautiful Things. Just yesterday I was in the park–my first emergence after the latest cold/flu/fever thing–and the first cherry blossoms were blasting off their whites and pinks. It really hit me how soft flowers make me feel inside. They’re like a soothing visual massage, so gentle when we allow their beauty to permeate our being. Make sure you have a couple of beautiful things nearby when you’re ill–be it a bouquet of fresh flowers, your fluffy kitty, or a picture of a gorgeous place that makes you happy.
7) Bathe Daily. The dirty (har) secret of sick days is that most people think, “Well, I’m sick, I’m not going anywhere, no need to bathe.” But even if you’re just going to roll back into bed, first roll into the shower. Use your favorite soaps and potions, visualize the water rinsing the sick off of you. The skin’s cells actually release little endorphins upon contact with warm liquid. Let those give you a boost, plus you’ll come out feeling much more shiny and new–if still snuffly and achy.
8) Change Your Clothes Every Day, and Make ‘Em Pretty. Again, even if it’s just your sheets looking at you all day, you’ll feel 100 times better in a fresh pair of jammies. I’ve also recently either mended or tossed my “loungewear”–no matter how beloved–with rips, stains, and other signs of run down disrepair. It’s amazing how I can identify less as a sick person when I’m in clean, attractive clothes, and more as a person getting well or just relaxing. A good trick for the brain.
9) Don’t Isolate. It’s especially easy for those who live alone to disconnect from the outside world when they’re sick. Do your best not to let that happen. Call or email friends and let them know you’re not feeling well; they’ll check in on you. Open to receiving their love while you’re at it–don’t automatically turn down offers of soup and juice and company. Let yourself be nurtured, it will help along the healing process.
10) Laugh. Ok, it’s the most annoying part of “The Secret” movie and book to me, but there’s a grain of truth in it. A woman says she’s healed her breast cancer by watching funny movies. And though I think that’s a wildly dangerous and irresponsible thing to say to a mass audience, laughter does release happy chemicals into our bloodstream, it uplifts our spirits, it gives us a reason to live, something to look forward to. So much of getting well is about imbibing joy into our minds and our cells. Our bodies may or may not take the hint, but it certainly can’t hurt to give it something to work with.