After spending two decades in the field of health and healing, I have noticed an intriguing pattern: people with chronic or autoimmune illnesses frequently share three common characteristics. Far from being weaknesses, these characteristics are also inherent strengths once we understand how to navigate them. Transforming these maladaptive aspects into adaptive ones can lead to happier, healthier lives.
The Freeze or Appease Response
Under the pressure of stress, many individuals adopt one of two coping strategies: they either “freeze” or “appease.” Those in the “freeze” category might withdraw from stressful situations as a protective mechanism, they tend to walk away rather than get involved in an argument or confrontation. Those who “appease” may display an excessively accommodating nature, eager to diffuse conflict and maintain harmony even at personal expense.
This coping style can often lead to a person becoming an “internalizer” – someone more inclined to self-blame rather than attributing the issue to external factors. While this trait can foster a heightened sense of responsibility and introspection and lead to a lot of personal growth, when unregulated, it can also lead to undue self-criticism and anxiety.
High Empathy and Sensitivity
Another shared trait is a profound empathy, often present in those who are Highly Sensitive People (HSPs). This means they possess an extraordinary capacity to discern others’ moods through subtle cues, such as body language, tone of voice, or even energetic vibrations. You may not even realize you’re doing this and may think everyone has this ability, but I assure you, they do not!
However, being an HSP can make modern society’s demands challenging. HSPs often require more “tend and befriend” energy — nurturing and supportive environments — which our culture doesn’t always provide. While their heightened perception can make them excellent caregivers, educators, or counselors, the constant bombardment of stimuli can sometimes lead to overstimulation or emotional exhaustion.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)
Finally, a surprising number of people with chronic or autoimmune illnesses have an ACE score of 3 or more. ACE studies refer to the exploration of how negative experiences during formative years can significantly impact a person’s health and well-being later in life. These adverse experiences range from emotionally immature parents to household dysfunction, such as substance abuse, mental illness, or parental separation.
A high ACE score often correlates with increased risk for chronic or autoimmune diseases. These experiences can alter immune and nervous systems, predisposing the individual to a variety of health conditions. Yet, understanding this link provides an opportunity for healing past traumas and working towards a healthier future.
Understanding these shared traits — the freeze or appease response, high empathy and sensitivity, and an elevated ACE score — can empower us to make essential changes. Recognizing these aspects within ourselves is the first step towards mitigating their potentially detrimental effects and harnessing their strengths.
Remember, we are not defined by our conditions or our pasts. We have the power to shape our futures, and by addressing these aspects consciously, we can influence our health positively.
Living with a chronic illness can be a daily challenge. But what if there were a way to ease some of this burden from within ourselves? Well, buckle up, because we’re about to dive into the world of meditation and how it can help you manage your chronic illness by shifting the function of both your immune and nervous system.
Meditation is a diverse practice, with various techniques that all aim to integrate the mind and body, cultivating a state of deep relaxation and mental tranquility. These techniques might include focusing on particular sensations, such as the breath, a sound, a visual image, or a mantra. The ultimate goal is to enhance both physical and emotional well-being.
The benefits of meditation extend beyond a sense of calm and balance. Interestingly, meditation can also influence the neuroimmune system, our body’s intricate network that integrates neural, hormonal, and immune communication. Meditation is thought to counteract the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, which increases heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure during times of stress. By reducing the stress response, meditation initiates beneficial effects throughout the body.
Research has found that mindfulness meditation affects two different stress pathways in the brain, changing brain structures and activity in regions associated with attention and emotion regulation. There’s also preliminary evidence suggesting that mindfulness could boost the immune system, potentially aiding in faster recovery from illnesses like the common cold or flu.
But how does this apply to chronic diseases? Well, meditation has been shown to help manage symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, asthma, cancer, chronic pain, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome.
A 2018 analysis supported by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that mindfulness meditation approaches were effective in managing anxiety, stress, and depression. Furthermore, meditation can strengthen the immune response, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep – critical components of self-care when managing a chronic illness. Mindfulness has also been shown to alleviate symptoms such as pain and fatigue in individuals with chronic pain conditions.
In fact, a research review published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that meditation was beneficial in relieving anxiety, pain, and depression, with its effect on depression being roughly equivalent to an antidepressant.
Although almost all types of meditation will be beneficial, if you’re looking to try a meditation that’s specifically for healing, I have one here that you’re welcome to try and see how it feels: Heal Your Health Issue Meditation by Megan Caper
So, there you have it – meditation might just be the key to unlocking a healthier, happier you and is a powerful tool for those managing chronic illnesses. And the best part? You don’t need any fancy equipment or expensive classes to get started – all you need is a quiet space, a few minutes of your time, and an open mind.
Western science is finally beginning to understand what holistic practitioners have been advocating about chronic illness for decades: the mind and body function as a single interconnected system, and a dysfunction in one can lead to a dysfunction in the other.
Contrary to what we learned in school, our brains are not simply the “controllers” of our bodies, with every bodily function resulting from a directive issued by the brain. Instead, recent findings suggest that the brain acts more like a relay station, receiving information from the body, interpreting and synthesizing it, and then sending it back to the body. This relationship between the brain and body is more of a cooperative partnership than a hierarchical model in which the body strictly follows the brain’s orders. (It’s worth noting that this misconception may have arisen from cognitive biases towards hierarchical models prevalent among the primarily white male researchers of the past century.)
When we experience physical or psychological stress, our bodies relay the message to our brains that something is amiss. In response, the brain activates “glial” cells, triggering an inflammatory immune response. This reaction sets off a cascade of changes, with the brain altering the quantity and type of hormones and neurotransmitters it produces. These alterations, in turn, instruct the body to heighten inflammation, immune sensitivity, and make changes in energy production and pain signaling.
The issue arises when this response becomes entrenched in the brain. If our systems do not receive the “all-clear” message once the stressor has passed, we may end up in a chronic state of brain inflammation and immune response. Over time, this can lead to symptoms such as chronic pain, fatigue, IBS, autoimmune diseases, chemical and sensory sensitivity, brain fog, and mood changes.
Fortunately, this condition is reversible. By applying neuroplasticity principles, we can help the brain exit its stressed and hypervigilant state. One study demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach, as 74% of chronic fatigue/ME patients experienced a reduction in core symptoms after receiving a drug that helped regulate neuroinflammation and immune cell function.
However, I believe that drugs are not the only solution. Instead, we can harness the brain’s innate ability to modify its functions in response to different inputs. By providing the brain with different information from the body, the cooperative partnership between the two can shift dramatically. As a result, many symptoms may dissipate on their own, and a new state of balance can become the new normal.
If you’re interested in learning more, I will be offering a course soon to explain the underlying science behind this phenomenon and teach techniques for utilizing principles of neuro-immune plasticity to reverse brain inflammation and restore your health. If you would like to join the waitlist and receive more information, please feel free to send me a note.
Your gut brain (or “enteric nervous system” if you want to be all sciency about it) is a whole other brain that exists in and around your digestive system, in the walls of your intestines and the surrounding tissues. This “second brain” is incredibly powerful, with 100 times more neurons than your spinal cord. It regulates many functions including immune function, quality of digestion, hormones and mood. In fact, your gut brain is largely responsible for the production of 95% of the serotonin and other “feel good” chemicals in your body.
Maintaining a healthy gut brain is crucial! Here are five things you can do today to take care of it:
- Eat whole foods. The more you can make whole foods a part of your diet, the more you’re giving your gut brain the fuel it needs to function well. By whole foods I mean minimally processed and resemble their original form: vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, nuts, grains, and even some dairy. So, olive oil is closer to a whole food than an oreo, for example. Whole foods contain not only the nutrients that our gut brains need, but also other important chemicals like phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds. In addition, whole foods already contain these nutrients in the amounts and ratios that our bodies need to optimally process them.
- Avoid preservatives and food coloring. This is important for two reasons. The first is that foods with preservatives and/or food coloring are less likely to be whole foods. The second is that preservatives and food coloring are toxic to your gut brain and your microbiome. Think about it – if you’re eating something that contains a preservative that’s supposed to inhibit bacterial growth in your food, wouldn’t it also inhibit bacterial growth in your gut? And we NEED bacteria in our gut! That serotonin I talked about that’s produced in your gut? It’s made by gut microbiome bacteria that’s being directed to do so by your gut brain. Food coloring has been shown to be a neurotoxin in many studies, so it kills the cells of your gut brain.
- Keep your mucosa healthy. A significant portion of your gut brain resides within two layers of your intestines, called a “neural plexus.” These layers go all the way from your esophagus to your large intestine, the entire length of your digestive system. So, it’s important to keep these layers healthy! A good way to do that is to make sure your gut mucosa is vibrant and healthy. The gut mucosa is a layer of mucous (eww, I know!) that coats your intestinal tract and keeps the food from reaching those plexus layers. The good news is that eating mostly whole foods will provide you with what you need for a healthy gut mucosa. But if you want to supplement, some helpful things you can take include: L-Glutamine, zinc carnosine, immunoglobulins, polyphenols, and amino acids including L-proline, L-serine, L-threonine, & L-cysteine. Of course, always check with your doctor before adding any supplements. (Side note: Am I the only one that looks at the word immunoglobulins and reads it as immunogoblins? I always imagine these microscopic goblins running around in my immune system.)
- Promote the serotonin cycle. When we give our brain and nervous system certain input, it actually changes the structure and function of it to create more of that same thing. So, for example, if I live in war zone and am often anxious and afraid, the structure and function of my brain will change over time to one where anxiety and fear are the default state. However, the same is true of happiness as well. If you “feed” your nervous system with things that promote joy, the structure and function of your brain will change to a default state of joy. Since our gut brains produce most of the happy chemicals in our body, it’s important to give it happy chemicals to prime it to make more. So, spend some time doing things that make you happy! That could be dancing to your favorite music, spending time with happy memories or envisioning your dreams coming true in the future, or hanging out with friends doing fun activities. Try to spend at least an hour a day doing things that increase your happy chemicals and over time, you’ll see a change in your baseline emotional state.
- Gut massage. The movement of food and other substances through your gut (called “gut motility”) is an important part of the health of your gut brain, too. Since your gut brain produces neurotransmitters, hormones, immune cells and other substances that are vital to health, it’s important to keep things moving along. Here’s a link to a great handout from the NHS on how to do abdominal self-massage: https://www.wchc.nhs.uk/content/uploads/2019/12/Self-abdominal-massage.pdf
I hope you found this information helpful and as always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out and I’d be happy to chat more.
In the past 75 years, our world has witnessed an unprecedented rise in chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases. Visionaries like Gabor Mate and Peter Levine have proposed that these ailments may be rooted in the accumulation of trauma and stress within our bodies and minds. The question remains, though, what is the precise connection? How do stress and trauma translate into long-term diseases?
Allow me to share my insights.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with countless individuals grappling with conditions such as Chronic Fatigue (ME), food intolerances, Lyme disease, MS, and, more recently, long COVID. A recurring theme has emerged from my energy healing sessions. When I establish an intuitive connection with my clients’ body-minds and inquire where the healing should commence, I consistently receive a message to harmonize the “Nervous-immune-digestive system.” Interestingly, this intuitive wisdom suggests that these are not three separate entities, as conventional medical science often assumes.
Conventional Western medicine divides our physiological systems into distinct categories, such as the immune system, the musculoskeletal system, the digestive system, and so forth. This compartmentalization is so deeply ingrained that we consult a different specialist for each system: a neurologist for the brain, a gastroenterologist for the digestive system, and a gynecologist for the reproductive system. Yet, our bodies do not perceive these as separate systems; rather, they are human constructs intended to simplify and classify biological information.
Our bodies comprehend that we are a single, interconnected living system, with every part dependent on the whole.
Thus, when I psychically received the term “nervousimmunedigestive system” from my clients’ bodies, I understood it as a call to view these three systems as one. This realization led me to delve into the intricate connections between the brain, immune system, and digestive system.
What I discovered was truly astounding.
Our brains, immune systems, and digestive systems are in constant dialogue, exchanging information through hormones, electrical signaling, and energetic pathways (such as meridians). They continuously monitor our health and relay any changes to the rest of the body.
Chronic illness arises from a disrupted communication system that remains stuck in a state of hypervigilance (fight/flight/freeze/appease). This dysfunction generates inaccurate messages that can alter hormone levels, immune system activity, emotional states, brain processing, inflammation, and more. For instance, in clients with chronic infections like long COVID or Lyme, I observed a hypervigilant body purposely clinging to low-grade infections to maintain surveillance, like a physiological version of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Unfortunately, this vigilance comes at a cost: fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, depression, and a myriad of other symptoms. Only when we coaxed the “nervousimmunedigestive system” out of hypervigilance and into a state of calm safety did these symptoms subside.
The encouraging news is that by addressing the physiological changes within these three intertwined systems, we can heal the physical symptoms of chronic and autoimmune illnesses. I have discovered that once the “neuroimmunedigestive system” is healed, other symptoms dissipate naturally.
If this message resonates with you, I am developing a program in the coming months that unites energy healing, NLP principles, mental practice, somatic healing, and neuroplasticity to facilitate lasting healing for these conditions. If you are interested in joining the waitlist for this transformative program, please reach out, and I will ensure you are among the first to know.
You know how they say, “You are what you eat”? Well, there’s increasing evidence from the world of epigenetics and psychoneuroimmunology that “You are what you think and believe” as well!
Epigenetics, a rapidly growing field of study, is revolutionizing the way we think about the relationship between our emotions, belief systems, and physical health. Influenced by the work of researchers like Bruce Lipton, mind-body science is evolving, demonstrating the interconnectedness of our thoughts, feelings, and the cells in our bodies. Let’s explore the fascinating world of epigenetics, the impact of emotions and belief systems on our cells, and the connection to psychoneuroimmunology – the study of how the mind influences the immune system.
The Power of Epigenetics
Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression that occur without altering the DNA sequence. These changes can be triggered by various factors, including the environment, lifestyle, and even our thoughts and emotions. Through epigenetics, we are discovering that our genes are not set in stone; rather, they can be turned on or off, like a light switch, based on various factors and stimuli.
Bruce Lipton, a renowned cell biologist, has played a significant role in advancing our understanding of how emotions and belief systems affect cellular function. According to Lipton, the receptors on the surface of our cells are influenced by our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, ultimately shaping our health and well-being.
Emotions, Belief Systems, and Cellular Receptors
Our emotions and belief systems have a profound impact on our overall health. When we experience positive emotions and maintain optimistic beliefs, our cells receive signals that promote healing, growth, and overall well-being. Conversely, negative emotions and limiting beliefs can send signals that contribute to stress, inflammation, and even disease.
Lipton’s research suggests that our thoughts and emotions directly influence the receptors on our cells’ surfaces. These receptors act as gatekeepers, allowing certain molecules to enter the cell while blocking others. By altering the behavior of these receptors, our emotions and beliefs can directly affect cellular function, essentially “programming” our cells to respond to specific stimuli.
The Connection to Psychoneuroimmunology
Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a multidisciplinary field that examines the interactions between the mind, nervous system, and immune system. It is a testament to the evolving understanding of mind-body science, as it delves into the ways our thoughts and emotions impact our physical health.
Epigenetics and PNI are closely intertwined, as both fields emphasize the role of emotions and belief systems in shaping our health. Research in PNI has demonstrated that stress, anxiety, and other negative emotional states can weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to infections and diseases. Conversely, positive emotions and beliefs have been shown to strengthen the immune system, promoting healing and overall well-being.
The Evolution of Mind-Body Science
As our understanding of epigenetics and psychoneuroimmunology expands, so does our appreciation for the intricate connection between the mind and body. The idea that our emotions and beliefs can directly influence our physical health has profound implications for both medicine and self-care.
By harnessing the power of our thoughts and emotions, we can actively participate in shaping our health and well-being. Mind-body practices like meditation, mindfulness, and positive affirmations are becoming increasingly popular as people recognize the potential of these tools to improve their lives.
The fields of epigenetics and psychoneuroimmunology are revolutionizing the way we think about health and well-being. As we continue to explore the connection between our emotions, beliefs, and physical health, it becomes clear that the mind and body are deeply intertwined. By embracing the power of our thoughts and feelings, we can take an active role in our own healing through practices like meditation, yoga, and through holistic modalities like energy healing, EFT and positive psychology practices.