An Asthma and Allergy specialist introduced me to the Mind/Body connection when I was six years old.
After a series of tests, he told me it was hard for me to breathe because I had Asthma and allergies. He explained what Asthma was and showed me pictures of what happened in my lungs while I was having an attack.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I can show you ways to train your brain to help you and your lungs relax when you’re having an attack.”
I got nervous when I couldn’t breathe and it made my asthma worse. He told me there was something called “belly breathing” which I thought was hilarious. I went into a laughing fit, followed by a coughing fit – which triggered my asthma. It was the perfect opportunity to teach me how to slow down my breathing and relax.
It took a while to get the hang of belly breathing, but I loved the idea of training my brain to help my body.
As I got into my teen years, our family dynamic became more and more chaotic. I stopped using belly breathing. The stress got worse and my Asthma flare-up’s were getting harder to control. I realized that instead of belly breathing, I constantly held my breath.
Debilitating migraines that made me throw up became a norm. Asthma squeezed my lungs while migraines kept my head in a vice grip. I let myself get stuck in a vicious cycle.
My Body was Wreaking Havoc On My Mind
At sixteen, an asthma attack kept me in the hospital for a week – something that hadn’t happened in years. Once again, my doctor reminded me to not let my symptoms get out of hand and to stay calm and relaxed. I was too embarrassed to tell him about my home life. I didn’t see the point, there wasn’t anything I felt I could do to change it.
The hospital stay was the first time in years I had felt good. While I was there, I didn’t have a migraine and my Asthma was under control again.
After a few weeks at home, I was back to asthma flare-ups and migraines. I was better about using my inhaler and calming my way through the attacks, but I wasn’t able to escape the migraines. They brought me to tears.
The body-mind chaos came back with a vengeance when a migraine hit at the same time as an asthma attack.
I fell into a trap of hating my body for being sick. I couldn’t imagine feeling like that for the rest of my life. The more negative feedback I gave myself, the worse I felt. I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t stop.
Instead of decreasing my meds at the follow-up appointment, I had to increase them. If I didn’t get myself under control, I would end up in the hospital again. The sad part, is that I wouldn’t have minded it.
After another lengthy conversation with my doctor, I went back to belly breathing. He added one more technique. When my lungs felt tight, he suggested I close my eyes and imagine that my airways were opening.
This helped me when I used an inhaler. I’d never gotten used to the jittery feeling it gave me. This technique gave me something else to think about while the medication got into my system.
Fast-forward to the present.
I haven’t been hospitalized for asthma in twenty-three years.
In what once felt impossible, I started running even though I had exercise-induced asthma. A few months later, my lungs felt amazing. My lung capacity was at an all-time high and with the consent of my doctor, I stopped taking asthma medication.
The greatest gift my doctor gave me was a positive coping mechanism that helped me understand that I did have control over my body. It gave me the confidence to run 5k’s and half-marathons, back-pack through Yosemite and live a healthy, happy life.
*Please consult your physician before making any changes to your health regimen!
How have you stopped your body from wreaking havoc on your mind? Let me know in the comments.