how thoughts affect our health

There it was, right on cue. Pains ran through my stomach, instantly nauseating me. Isn’t it suspicious that they always come when I’m about to walk into work? Sometimes I get them a little earlier, like when I get into the car or when I first wake up. But what are the chances that I have a stomachache every morning when I know I have to work in the near future?

On more occasions than I’d like to admit, I have fallen victim to psychosomatic symptoms, health challenges that stem from suppressed emotions. In this case, I experience stomachaches before work because I struggle with work anxiety. Now that I know this, I know how to stop it.

While some of us may be more driven by our feelings than by our thoughts, our feelings do not determine our reality. Our feelings may feel so real, but they are not true. Especially if our feelings are related to fear and shame.

Fear and anxiety may cause you to develop other symptoms. You may have headaches before you’re about to confront a co-worker about an issue. You may have chest pain before you go to your family member’s house. You may have acid reflux before you are about to take a long trip. 

Of course, you could just be sick. We get stomach viruses and sinus infections every once in a while. But pay attention to when you develop those symptoms. Why did your stomach start gurgling at that moment? Is there a connection between your symptoms and your circumstances?

If you struggle with psychosomatic symptoms due to suppressed emotions, there is only one solution: deal with the feelings. I personally like to journal, but you could also process out loud alone or with a friend. Be intentional about identifying what you are feeling, and why you could be feeling that way. Why are you scared? Why are you angry? You may even be joyful, but you’re not allowed to show it because of those around you. Don’t be surprised if you start to develop psychosomatic symptoms while you’re dealing with your feelings.

I’m so thankful that God knows my heart. I can come to Him at any time of the day and share my feelings with Him, knowing that He will never leave me or forsake me. He created my emotions as signals to how I’m reacting to my circumstances. God is not freaked out or intimidated when I discover fear, shame, or anger in my heart. Even better than that, He can replace those “ugly” emotions with His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The truth of God’s Word tells me that I am a child of God. I am fully loved by God. His grace covers every sin I’ve ever committed. He gives me good, not harm, all the days of my life. In light of these truths (and countless others found in Scripture), how could I be afraid? Of course, the feelings will continue to come, but we have to fight them with God’s Truth. Don’t let your feelings control your truth; use the truth to control your feelings.

Photo by Vinicius Amano on Unsplash


What You Can Control

I woke up this morning feeling nauseous, in pain, and tired. This meant that I could not do the things that I planned to do today (you know, like finally submit my book to a literary agent!). I had everything set up to submit, and all I had to do was do a final run-through and e-mail it. Unfortunately, all I could do was stay in bed and hold my stomach, as if holding my stomach would somehow relieve the pain. I couldn’t control my health, and I couldn’t control my schedule, but I could control the food I ate and the books I read while lying down.

I heard a sermon a few years ago where the pastor told us that we are responsible for our bodies and our choices. I was taken aback by that comment. I couldn’t control my body! I have anxiety. Anxiety controls me.

Or does it?

One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. That means that God empowers us to control ourselves. Addiction may be tough to beat, but God gives us the strength and the willpower to stop. The same is true for anxiety. Anxiety wants you to think that you don’t have control, but the reality is, you do have control.

When life gets overwhelming, it feels like I’m not in control. However, since one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control, that means we have a responsibility for something, and that is ourselves. We are in control of the self when we practice self-control.

I may not be able to control what people say to me, but I can control how I respond. I may not be able to control my noisy neighbors (do your kids have to scream at the top of their lungs in the middle of the day?), but I can control my approach to the situation. I may not be able to control people’s expectations of me, but I can control how I spend my time and the choices I make with my habits and activities.

When anxiety strikes, you have a choice. It may feel like you can’t breathe, but you have a choice to take deep breaths and to practice positive self-talk. You may have a stomachache and feel like you’re going to throw up, but you have a choice to pray and to take your mind off of the pain. My therapist told it to me this way, “No one ever died from a panic attack.” Remember that your anxiety will pass. Don’t do anything to harm yourself physically or to talk down to yourself. Find healthy coping mechanisms such as memorizing Scripture, journaling, deep breathing, or talking it out with someone. Over time, your anxiety attacks will be more manageable.

In the long run, take a look at your life and see what is causing you anxiety. Is it your job, family, living situation, health, free time, relationships, or something else? Any and all of these things can cause us stress. Before trying to take control, identify which of these aspects of your life you can control and which you cannot. You can switch jobs, set boundaries with your family, move out, take care of your body, plan activities that fuel you rather than drain you, and pray about how to approach the conflicts in your life.

Unfortunately, sometimes life isn’t always that easy. Money isn’t always in our favor, families aren’t always that understanding, and medical conditions may cause difficulties in maintaining a healthy weight or working out efficiently. As my friend used to say in high school, “Do your best, and let God do the rest.” Focus on what you can control, and surrender to God what you can’t control. Do what you can control well, and trust God to do His part in your life.

Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We are not able to control ourselves without God’s help. Pray today for wisdom in how to control yourself, your anxiety, and your life.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

Photo by Wilco Van Meppelen on Unsplash