I was always amazed how few of the visitors at the Haven, the breast cancer charity I started 20 years ago now, made any connection between their illness and their mental health. Complementary therapies for them more often meant yoga, massage, acupuncture or herbal medicine. Holistic therapies that focused on cleaning up the mind were rarely on their radar.
Have you ever considered it may be possible to detox your mind? Is it a concept you have even heard of?
Mental health and the body
I remember one visitor in particular. She was only 32 years old and passionate about nutrition and exercise. She was slim and regularly ran marathons. She ate organic, had never drank alcohol and never smoked. She went to bed early and never did anything to excess. She was beautiful, organised, hard-working and extremely clever. She seemed to have it all. She was shell-shocked at her breast cancer diagnosis. How did she, who had done everything ‘right’, get cancer?
Yet, when I talked to her more, I could see that years worth of stress had taken their toll. Six months earlier she had lost the job she passionately loved. A jealous senior manager had made her position untenable, so that when redundancy loomed, she was the one who was laid off. At around the same time, she found the man she had been engaged to marry had been cheating on her, and gone off with a person who she had thought was her close friend. In the space of half a year, her whole world exploded and her life was no longer the life she had imagined it to be. She had lost everything that she had thought solid and certain. And on top of the losses, there was repeated betrayal. And when we dug further, it seemed recent events were a reflection of earlier losses too. She had been born and brought up in Australia, but her father and mother had divorced and her mother brought her to the UK, so that in one fell swoop she lost both her father and her country. Then her younger brother drowned accidentally. The tales of loss went on and on.
And yet, when she spoke to me, she recited the story calmly and clinically. She didn’t burst into tears, or express emotions of any kind. She talked as if it had happened to someone else.
The effects of emotional trauma
When I explained to her that emotional trauma impacts on the physical body, she couldn’t understand at first. It simply hadn’t occurred to her that mental and emotional pain could affect her health in any way, that what was eating away at her mental health could end up eating away at her physical health too. That a sudden shock can trigger physical trauma in the body. Well educated though she was, and aware and careful as she was about the effects of nutrition and exercise on her body, she didn’t realise that emotional baggage left undealt with could have physical implications.
Drs Candace Pert and Bruce Lipton are both particular heroes of mine. They research and write about the new (newish now) science of psychoneuroimmunology, which in layman’s terms means ‘the effects of thoughts, feelings and events on the workings of the physical body’. In a nutshell, and forgive me favourite authors for hashing up your detailed and scientific research, the emotions and thoughts you repeatedly have every day turn into chemicals that flood your body and can negatively – or positively – affect your biochemistry. Sorting your mental health is key to getting you on that path to recovery.
The power of positive thinking
In a way it empowers us all enormously, because it’s no longer possible to blame your health on your genes, or on circumstances outside your control. You have to now take responsibility for your mind. If you are full of venom and rage, continually thinking about the boyfriend that abandoned you or the best friend that cheated on you; if you are full of fear all day, every day because you don’t have enough money, or you worry all day that you will never find a partner; if you are bitter about the brother who crashed your car or unforgiving about the parents who split up when you were six; if you still see the moment when your kitten ran out into the road and was killed in front of you in repeated flashbacks, then your mind is on overdrive.
Too many of these ‘if’s’ creates a soup of negative emotions that floods your system on an ongoing basis. You can meditate every day for an hour at a time, and repeat affirmations till the cows come home, but every second you are not, your mind is sending destructive messages to your body, and your body always, always acts as it is directed by the mind. Clean up your mind and you can reboot both your physical and your mental health.
Detox your mind: set yourself free from the past
I would say that to detox your mind is far more important than detoxing your body, though a full detox reboot can’t be done without tackling both. Clear out all your old memories of difficult events and difficult people, the painful emotions and difficult thoughts. Give up whatever it is that is running you. Find the sentences that rule your life – the echoes from your childhood, words said by people who no longer have any power over you except the power you give them so many decades later – and eliminate them. Cruel or thoughtless statements from aeons ago - ‘You will never amount to much’, ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’, ‘Who would want to marry you?', ‘Be clever, because you will never be pretty’ – became your reality, but they don’t need to any more. You can deal with all these, simply and forever, if you can first become aware of them.
DIY therapy: How to resolve trauma
And how to sort your mental health? Easily actually, and inexpensively, because you can do it all in the safety of your own home. You don’t even need to speak the words to a stranger. Just to yourself, and you already know the worst of it. Getting in touch with your emotions and your traumas is the first step. You have to dig them out of the deep box you have buried them in. Set them, and yourself, free. Your mind is your ally here. Give it an instruction and it will always do its best to carry it out. Just decide to be brave and go for it, and your mind will help you all the way.
First, write a list of all the unresolved traumas that spring to mind. You may think that you only have two or three issues that have never been dealt with, and that you got over them long ago. That is your conscious mind speaking – the one that blocks things out to make you feel better and enable you to get through your daily life.
But if you sit still for a few minutes in a quiet room – preferably lying down with your eyes shut – an endless flow of memories and pictures will flood your mind. People and things that you haven’t thought of for years; some of them seemingly insignificant.
Note it down
Give each event a brief title. Have a notebook with you, and write them all down. Just short titles that will jog your memory later – when you fell off the sofa as a baby; when Billy pushed you over in the playground when you were 7 and everyone laughed at you; your first difficult day at big school; the end of your first relationship; failing a major exam; losing your job; or your dog; your wife leaves you or a parent dies – the list of the traumas of everyday life are endless.
Complementary therapies to transform your mental health
You used to have to do years of intense therapy, with a psychiatrist, counsellor or psychologist, but 21st century complementary therapies offer faster and often more effective results. They work not just on your conscious mind, but also on your subconscious. There is kinesiology, hypnotherapy, EMDR, NAET, my own ReBoot Process, and a whole host of other many lettered holistic therapies that can help you reboot your mental health. For me, however, it’s always about the skill of the individual therapist, and if you want to start slowly and peacefully at home, then I would say that EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique – it does what it says on the bottle!) is the one for you.
It was created by Gary Craig in the 1980s and uses a combination of sequences - the tapping of acupressure points, alongside specific statements, feelings and thoughts - to simply and effectively release negative emotions. Perhaps have an initial session with a practitioner to get the hang of it, but then simply block out a period of time each day and work your way through your ‘stuff’. You may feel a bit self-conscious to start with, sitting there, tapping on various meridian points, and your inner derogatory voice will start to play up, but stick it out and keep it up, and magic will occur.
What you are aiming for is a full detox; achieving that place of calm and peace inside your mind that advanced souls speak of. With every memory, emotion and thought that you release, you are one step closer. It may take you months, or even years, but detoxing your mind is a health essential. Be brave; take the first step.... and then walk forward.
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Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, who founded one of the UK's largest breast cancer charities, The Haven, twenty years ago. With Reboot Health, Sara aims to bring the best preventative and curative health solutions ranging from nutrition, alternative therapies, fitness and conventional medicine.