When we’re recovering from a health problem there are three key factors that must be  taken into account; nutrition, exercise, and emotional wellbeing (also know as our mental health)

Having worked in the mental health sector of the NHS for over 13 years, I know that the larger proportion of focus is often around physical recovery, with little to no emphasis on emotional recovery.  I acknowledge that this isn’t the case for all services, and I’m certainly not blaming the NHS when it is the case, they do an unbelievable job under constant financial and demand pressure. There is, however, more scope for independent therapists and charities to be signposted, and where necessary funded, for patients.

Three dimensions to recovery

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Think Well

Neuroscience research has proved that our brain patterns change through relaxation practices.  Using relaxation techniques, controlled breathing, mindfulness, meditation and yoga, you can harness a stronger, calmer mind with a more peaceful disposition.  When your mind is in the right place, you’re truly ready for recovery.

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Eat Well

Food impacts on our brain functioning and mood; the wrong food induces extreme highs and lows, and mood swings. When we nourish ourselves with good food, it works on both a mental and physical level. The right foods not only give us fuel, they keep our immune system healthy, support the functioning of our organs, and keep our metabolism in check.  Working with our qualified nutritionist and health educator, Nicky, you will learn the basics about fuelling your body properly to reduce or remove symptoms of ill health as well as hooking you up with lots of resources to support you on your journey.

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Exercise not only contributes to our overall physical health and wellbeing but is essential for our mental wellbeing too; stimulating the formation of new brain cells and releasing mood enhancing endorphins, which promotes a sense of wellbeing and keeps depression at bay. This is particularly important for people with long term conditions who can be prone to depression. Exercise also boosts our central nervous system, reduces illness relapses, and improves cognitive performance. Clients can work with me on subtle body movement that will support their balance, coordination and help to strengthen and lengthen muscles.  Client’s have the additional option then of working with our Fitness coach, James, who is a qualified personal trainer.  James works at a pace and level that is right for each person, getting them back into good physical shape, as well helping in areas such as building muscle, stamina, a healthy heart and good lung capability.

Mind Matters
To deal with every day life challenges, and especially when recovering from injury, major surgery or illness, our emotional wellbeing needs to be in tip top condition.  Emotional wellbeing is about feeling safe, steady, and at peace with yourself and the world around you.  It’s about being able to get back on track if something gives us an emotional knock, it’s about how we process and internalise what’s happening to us, and around us.  It’s about resilience and strength.  It’s what determines how well we live our lives. Emotional wellbeing comes about with a balance of the three wellbeing aspects outlined above, however, when it’s not taken into account during recovery not only does it impede your progress, it can manifest itself in all kinds of issues with our mental health (anxiety, anger, depression, hopelessness and helplessness), and also our physical health (aches, pains, weight loss or gain).  When one is impacted, so is the other.  You cannot separate mind-body.   

For my part in the health recovery programme I very much focus on healing your mind and getting your brain back on track.  There is growing evidence (and popularity) for the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, which can make a significant difference to ones recovery after serious injuries and illness.  Anyone who reads my blogs will know I’m a huge fan of mindfulness and meditation; as well as offering these services through my holistic therapy business, I also practice both regularly myself.  It has, without doubt, made a huge difference to my own mental wellbeing.

A medium sized pilot study, looking into  ‘mindfulness-based stress reduction‘, found clinically meaningful improvements on measures of quality of life, perceived self-efficacy, working memory and regulation of attention.  A study published in the journal Brain Injury showed that mindfulness training supported head trauma patients to maintain their focus on the present moment, and hence help them become more aware of their environment and respond more appropriately in the moment.
One patient commented in their blog that meditation allowed them to lose themselves in thought and find peace during recovery.  Indeed combining mindfulness with meditation provides a powerful tool with which to support patients to connect with thoughts, feelings, and environment in a calm and peaceful manner, not judging, just being. 

Research shows that exercise that integrates personal awareness, such as tai chi, can improve recovery outcomes (think mindfulness of breath, environment, movement, feeling).  For me it’s more than just the personal awareness, coordination, and balance required, it’s also about working with the energy within and around the body to balance, unblock and repair.  I do that through my own subtle body movement routine called MoGaChi, and through using Reiki, a wonderful and gentle healing therapy.   

Beyond meditation and mindfulness, talking therapy, psychotherapy and coaching are an essential part of recovery from emotional trauma.  It’s so important to be able to freely express what we’re going through to someone who won’t judge us, and is not emotionally involved in our lives.  Coming to terms with how you and your life is post injury or major surgery takes purposeful guidance, and time. 

Combining all three wellbeing aspects provides an all encompassing platform for patients to feel safe, listened to, and supported in their recovery.


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Alison Braithwaite, MSc CIPD
Nicky Sainty NT Dip

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2 Comments on “How to recover the whole self from injury, major illness or surgery

  1. I think that you have made a very good point here. When we go in for surgery, or are recovering from an illness, we often think that it’s just our bodies that need to heal. Not many even consider that it’s also our minds that need to be taken care of during such a stressful time. Thank you for the great post!

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    • Thanks for taking the time to respond to this post 🙂 We need to take care of our whole selves always. Mental health is increasingly getting exposure but we still have a way to go. Alison

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