By Erin Ard
The month of May is known for quite a few awareness and observance campaigns. Interestingly enough, the main topic I want to address in this post loosely relates to each of these. #NUTS! In mental health, this can refer to your negative unconscious thoughts. For Celiac disease, these can be a great source of protein on a gluten-free diet. And well.. you get it.. But I mainly want to address mental health when you are living with #IBD.
There is evidence that #depression and #anxiety are more common in individuals with IBD compared to the general population. Which makes absolute sense when you think about what we deal with on a daily basis and during a flare. Mental health really becomes a topic of discussion when you put the stress of school into the mix.
I can remember an incredibly stressful time during my semesters as an undergrad. I was juggling 5 paper deadlines within the same week with exams looming in the weeks to follow. I ended up having to sacrifice my social life, sleep, and taking time to care for my body. Not having any time to properly focus on my health added to the stress. It felt like I was failing at life because I didn't have time for myself or my friends and family. Fortunately I made it through this time despite needing to make these sacrifices, but after it was all over I made my health a priority.
During these times, it's easy to fall into bad thinking habits. Our negative thinking habits are hard to shake. A lot of times we don't notice them. These gloomy, self-deprecating thoughts can feel so natural to our personalities or our every day thought processes, but they don't need to be. Thankfully, you can retrain your brain to respond differently when these thoughts pop up and here is one strategy how. Say it with me!
This is a common saying for me that is usually followed by a lot of giggling.. But this word found a whole new meaning when I learned about the concept of NUTs as it pertains to mental health and #mindfulness. When I discovered this lesson, I thought it was so enlightening that I had to share it with all of you!
If you have ever felt held back by your own thoughts, tendencies, or fears. This is for you.
NUTs appear in our unconscious and tend to affect how we think and act throughout the day. They can impact how we view ourselves and our ability to face adverse situations.
These are incredibly personal and can look different to each person. As individuals with IBD, we probably share a few common negative thoughts. It may sound like, "I can't live my life how I want because of this disease." " I won't get through another flare up." "I will never live normally again." or "I hold my friends or partner back."
The gist of the practice is to name these thoughts and evaluate them. Here are my top five negative thoughts (some of which, you might have too) and what happened when I brought them to the front of my consciousness..
"I am going nowhere."
"My anxiety keeps me from achieving my goals, meeting new people, and finding love."
"I am unable to connect with others."
"No one is interested in what I have to say, so I won't say anything."
"I won't be successful because of my Crohn's."
Saying mine out loud was oddly therapeutic, almost satisfying. Even now, when I read them over the more silly they seem. When I formed that first NUT, the rest poured out in a rush. More and more came to the forefront because so many of these had been piling up over the years. Rather than acknowledging them, I would shove them aside. I tried to ignore them - like if I forgot about them, they wouldn't be true. I ended up delaying my chance for peace of mind.
If I had given them some thought as they arose, I would have realized how much unnecessary power they had. They secretly dominated my mind for several years. How I acted in social situations, dealt with difficult circumstances, coped with certain physical limitations, or processed the aftermath of some high emotional states. It was easy to find myself down a rabbit hole in my unconscious surrounded by debilitating negativity. Because of this exercise, I'll be able to find a way out now.
I can't say that I've completely moved past these negative thoughts, however. Honestly, some of them still give me a pang of discomfort because they were so deeply rooted in my unconscious mind. You might find that some of your NUTs hold a bit of truth to them, but that is still okay. Even if you do find one to be true, can you accept that?
I highly recommend trying this out for yourself! What thoughts could be holding you back or keeping you from seeing your potential? Name the first things to come to your mind and ask yourself, are these true? Do they have to be true? How do they make me feel? And then ask yourself, what would my life look like if I no longer had these thoughts? Be sure to open yourself up to whatever happens in this exercise.
A special thank you to the Mindful Leadership Program and Elisha Goldstein for teaching this concept to help others.