What I Gained from Learning about the Mind-Body Connection
Despite the pain and angst I experienced after being diagnosed with endometriosis at a young age, I was fortunate to survive my adolescence and go on to college. Perhaps not surprisingly, I chose to study psychology and focus my research on reproductive health. Through my coursework, I began to learn about the many ways in which psychological and social factors affect our physical health and well-being.1 Learning about this connection was invaluable for understanding and coping with my endometriosis.
What I learned (in a nutshell)
I learned so much that helped me process what I was experiencing. For example, I learned about the complex ways in which socioeconomic resources influence access to quality treatment and reduce diagnosis delays. I also learned about how cultural and familial experiences shape our expression of pain and how our social support networks respond to our pain. Further, I became aware of the research on how mood disorders can exacerbate symptoms of chronic illness, and interfere with our coping. Because pain is influenced by many psychosocial factors, it makes sense that health psychologists endorse multidisciplinary approaches to pain management.1 This includes physical, cognitive, biomedical, and behavioral treatments. People with chronic pain can benefit from learning about the mind-body connection in relation to pain, which includes an understanding about how negative thoughts can intensify pain (and vice versa). Learning to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with more positive thoughts (it takes a lot of practice!), can benefit our pain management.
What I gained
Learning more about the mind-body connection was healing for me. I gained more insight into how I can use my negative health experiences to create new and more positive experiences. For example, I learned about “benefit finding”, which is defined as “the experience of identifying positive outcomes in the face of adversity”.1 People with chronic illness who are able to find the good in the bad can actually have better health outcomes. This is not ignoring or invalidating the difficulties of living with chronic illness, but rather expanding our capacity to think about the diverse ways in which illness affects our lives.
Through reflecting on this, I can acknowledge how my experience with chronic pain increases my compassion toward others who experience chronic pain. I've also developed new coping strategies that have benefited other aspects of my life, not just those related to endometriosis. I also now know how to navigate the health care system, and have gained invaluable information that I can share with my kids when they approach reproductive age. Please don’t get me wrong – this process was not easy and did not happen overnight. Along with the learning, I had to do a lot of work to unlearn the automatic negative thoughts. And of course there are still days when my ability to find benefit is clouded. But I’ve certainly been able to start appreciating how resilient I have become through experiencing chronic pain.
In what ways have you grown through your experience with endometriosis?
Where has endo been found in your body?
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