Because of the unpredictability of chronic illnesses like ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and Lyme disease, it’s easy to find ourselves getting anxious about the kinds of things that can bring on a crash or a flare. I became somewhat of a control freak, wanting to control every aspect of my environment and my life to minimise the possibility of the pain – both physical and emotional – of worsening symptoms. Sometimes just being where we are is so unpleasant that we feel a huge pressure to do the things that we hope will make us better. Unfortunately though, this anxiety, pressure and desperate need to control something that really isn’t fully under our control can work against our well-being.
Anxiety, pressure and need for control are all linked to heightening the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, redirecting our bodies’ resources away from digestion and healing and towards a readiness for action. This can sometimes make us feel as though we can do things more easily, but is likely to be pushing us past an awareness of our easily available energy into the unsustainable emergency energy production that will eventually result in a crash or flare. It can also complicate any difficulties with sleep, with a knock-on effect to general well-being.
I was lucky to learn that what I really needed to control, and did have real control over, was being as relaxed and peaceful as possible. But how can you relax when your well-being is so fragile and you desperately want things to be different? I discovered that I needed to cultivate trust.
I like the analogy of a dark room. The darkness within the room can’t just be removed, the only way to change the state of that room is to introduce light. Similarly, if you’re feeling anxious, pressured or the need to control, it can seem pretty impossible to get yourself out of those states. But those states will disappear if you can introduce trust.
How to cultivate trust:
1. Choose it: recognise its benefits.
Learning to trust isn’t easy. To be able to do what it takes, it’s really important to believe that it’s what you need to do. I was very committed to the belief that trust would help me be more relaxed, and that would be the most beneficial thing I could do for myself.
2. Experiment and look out for evidence that it’s helpful.
For me learning to trust was all about experimenting. When I noticed myself worrying or feeling the pressure of wanting to predict and control things that weren’t really under my control, I would ask myself, “What will happen if I let myself trust that it will all work out eventually?” I also experimented with the idea that everything is perfect just as it is; any imperfections are things that I can learn from so they are useful anyway. When I did manage to achieve a more relaxed state as a result of these experiments, I made sure I paid attention to how much better it felt.
3. Let go of wanting a specific outcome, cultivate detachment.
One of the things that can really get in the way of being able to trust is how much we want things to turn out a particular way. I tried to develop a curiosity for how things would turn out, rather than thinking, “If I want this, how am I going to get there?” Obviously, I still wanted things to improve, but I tried to avoid attaching myself to what I wanted that improvement to look like. I’d tried to see life more as a magical mystery tour. I needed to know I was getting somewhere but I was happy to see where the tour would take me whilst paying attention to enjoying the journey. I aimed to find entertainment in the unknown.
4. Focus on the here and now.
But I think the most helpful thing for cultivating trust was aiming to focus just on the here and now. When you’re not paying attention to the future you don’t need to worry or be in control. I aimed to focus on what I could do to make myself as relaxed and comfortable in the moment, to be present to the here and now. I realised that joy could be found in the little things and challenged myself to get better at noticing them. That kind of distraction coupled with a wait-and-see attitude made it easier to notice the benefits of trust.
How Trust Works
What I discovered with my experiments was that trust works because it makes the now better which then has a knock-on effect on the future. Without the tension of worry and the pressure of needing to control, it’s easier to relax and far less energy is wasted. Feeling at ease in the here and now, is very energy efficient and healing, so things do work out better. But even if they don’t, if something goes wrong, you have more energy to deal with it better because you haven’t been wasting it on worry and tension. But actually, whether it makes a difference to the future or not, is kind of irrelevant because most importantly, it makes a difference to now! Trust creates a win-win-win situation. Try it out – experiment. What have you got to lose?
Julie Holliday, ProHealth's Inspirational Editor, is a holistic life coach and writer committed to helping people take back control from energy-limiting chronic illness to live a more relaxed, balanced and fulfilling life. Julie loves spending time in nature, growing her own vegetables and spends as much of her day as possible in a comfortable pair of yoga pants. Writing as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.