I’d always understood that the mind had a role in physical health, but I didn’t realize its true power until I found myself the sole founder of a bootstrapped business, stressed and overwhelmed. I’d been told by a naturopath who helped me reverse two years of amenorrhea in college that I had hypothyroidism, which is when your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. It results in things like fatigue and weight gain, and untreated can cause many other chronic health issues. I’d always had trouble waking up in the morning and needed a lot of sleep, but other than that it hadn’t affected me too much.
However, when I launched WellBe in July 2017 with a website, weekly newsletter, and four social channels, by December 2017 I had kicked my hypothyroidism into full blown Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid condition in which your body attacks your thyroid, mis-perceiving it as a threat.
Being in the wellness world already, I made it a point to eat well, get enough sleep, and walk plenty, so the only thing I could think of that had changed in my life was added stress.
For another year, I was “too busy” to really worry about it and took Naturethroid (a natural thyroid medication), figuring I’d work on reversing it once I reached a few of my business goals.
In October 2018 a blood test revealed my numbers were much worse. Right around that time, I had the privilege of interviewing Kelly Noonan Gores, the writer and director of the documentary, Heal, about people who heal spontaneously from chronic illness and what they have in common. One amazing statistic stood out to me: there were nine consistent things that worked to reverse people’s cancer in a particular study, seven of which were mental, spiritual, and emotional. One of those seven was releasing suppressed emotions through the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
EFT is a mix of therapy and breath work that pulls out suppressed and repressed emotions in an attempt to release them. I was intrigued.
In January, I decided to contact an EFT practitioner and began a series of four sessions with her over the phone. It was expensive and not covered by insurance, which always makes me skeptical, a bit resentful, and resistant when trying a new treatment. In the first two sessions, I did a lot of explaining and talking about my life and the things I had been through. Frankly, I felt frustrated because I could see the dollar signs adding up minute by minute. But then, in the third session, we did something called a closed eye process, which is basically deep breathing with your eyes closed while she asked me questions related to pain I felt in my body.
At the time I didn’t fully understand the connection between suppressed emotions and pain, but now I think it’s pretty remarkable. The practitioner had been able to connect that the back pain I had dealt with since I first got a slight scoliosis around the age of 11, was very much connected to a hurtful experience I went through with my mother around that time, and I wasn’t yet mature enough to fully process it. My mother committed suicide when I was 25 so I figured I would have suppressed emotions related to that, but in fact, it was this much older, deeper feeling of rejection that I was holding onto.
I experienced two “releases” during the fourth and fifth sessions (I added two more sessions onto the package) that were some of the most intense crying experiences I’ve ever had. The emotional pain was so great that I could hardly breathe.
When I interviewed nutritionist and cognitive behavioral therapist, Dana James, six months before doing the EFT work, I learned that these repressed childhood emotions tend to form our core beliefs about our own self-worth, and many of us who self-sabotage tend not to (consciously or subconsciously) believe that we are worthy of being loved, or acceptive of success or happiness.
Though the pain was great, the sense of exhaustion after the releases made me feel like I had really let it out and let it go. Now that I was able to understand why things happened the way they did in my mother’s life, my own, and in our relationship, paired with the impact that these negative feelings had had on my life and on my relationship with myself, I could move forward.
Do I still have back pain? Yes. Do I still have negative self-talk and stress? Absolutely. So it’s not that the EFT work changed everything overnight, but knowing that this massive emotional pain that was lingering inside me for the past 20 years, misunderstood, unresolved and festering, was now “out” (or at least moved into my conscious adult mind), was extremely comforting.
Who knows if taking these actions prevented a chronic illness from forming decades from now, but given the research, I have reason to believe they did.
Adrienne Nolan-Smith is a board certified patient advocate, speaker, and the founder of WellBe, a media company and lifestyle brand focused on bridging the large gap between the healthcare system and the wellness movement to help people prevent and reverse chronic health issues naturally. She received her BA from Johns Hopkins University and her MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University. She lives with her husband in New York City. You can follow her for daily inspiration and information at @getwellbe.