A few months ago, I went through a bit of a dip in my health. As I started pulling out of it and resumed my walks around the block, I noticed that my heart rate alarm was going off a lot more regularly, and even when I slowed down or stopped, it was almost impossible to prevent it from going off again as soon as I started up again. I’d even get an aerobic workout just from strolling around the block at a snail’s pace. I also noticed that I would dip the day after.
None of this is unexpected, right? Well, that’s the point of this blog. When I started to change how I thought about my walks and what I expected, the results have been quite startling.
Looking back on that period, I can see how my thoughts had paved the way for my experiences. From my previous experiences, I’d taught myself to believe that after a flare of symptoms, I was likely to be more unwell. I taught myself to believe that my heart rate alarm going off all the time was a sign of more limited energy and that I was overdoing it. I’d taught myself to believe that it was dangerous to overdo it and if I did, I would experience post-exertional malaise (PEM) as a result.
Even at the time, I was becoming aware that the thing that would trigger my heart rate alarm wasn’t effort, or speed, or even getting tired at the end of a walk, it nearly always happened when my mind drifted from being mindful in the present moment to trying to solve some kind of problem that was on my mind. It might even be nice problems that I was considering, like what I was going to cook for dinner, but it would always happen in the moment I drifted out of the moment and started to put my world to rights. However, once it had gone off, no matter how present and relaxed I tried to be in that moment, there were always thoughts at the back of my mind that this isn’t a good sign.
Not long afterward, I went away on holiday with my best friend. I still wasn’t really back to baseline, but after a rest day to recover from the journey, we went out to the nearby forest for a walk. I picked the shortest circular route possible, whilst my friend planned a big walk. We started off together on an incline. I was really enjoying being somewhere new in nature and was talking about relaxing things with my friend. I had to stop a couple of times when I noticed the effort involved in walking uphill, but I got to the end of the incline and realized that my heart rate alarm hadn’t gone off once, even though the effort involved had been far higher than during my walks around the block.
Suddenly, the evidence was staring me in the face that it is my thoughts that do more harm than the physical energy I expend. This was something I’d experienced before while on holiday and had been able to dramatically increase my swimming throughout the week.
After that, I made the decision to switch off my heart rate alarm, and on the last day of my holiday, I had a really lovely walk, about twice as far as I would do around the block at home, and with the new belief that it wasn’t going to do me any harm, I discovered that it didn’t!
Once home with my alarm switched off, I stayed a lot more relaxed on my walks. Every time I noticed my mind drifting into problem-solving, I would gently bring it back into the present moment and trust that all would be well. Exploring my heart rate afterward, I discovered that although my heart rate would still go into the intensive zone from time to time, overall I was spending a lot less time in that zone by not having the alarm switched on.
That’s not quite the end of the story. A few weeks later, an update on my phone somehow managed to switch my heart rate notification back on. Not long after I’d set off on a walk around the block, my phone told me my heart rate had hit aerobic levels. In that moment, I made a decision. I decided that it would be good for my heart to have a bit of aerobic exercise, even if it resulted from a gentle stroll around the block, and I chose to fully believe it. In fact, instead of slowing down, which was my old response to the notification, I decided to up my pace a little. I thought, I’ll have a 5-minute workout and then walk back slowly as a wind-down. I chose to trust that this would be good for my body. Ever since I made that decision, I have been gradually increasing my walking and have found myself spontaneously wanting to do my yoga. Now that I have a new belief that movement and a bit of aerobic heart rate is good for my body, my holistic self has been nudging me to do more.
Most notably though, my wellbeing has been on a rapid incline. I’ve had very few dips in energy since then and when they have, they’ve only lasted a day. I’ve chosen to believe that they will last no longer if I rest appropriately.
Could you create a new belief that would invite better health?