Don’t ignore that all-important mind-body connection — it could cost you!

About three years ago, I tried working two jobs that totaled up to about 65 hours a week. Now, I know many people out there work that many hours or more, and actually thrive on the stress and adrenaline and challenge, but I’m not that kind of person. After about two months of this schedule, I realized that I could no longer work and function at the same no-consequences level as my younger self from 20 years ago.

I only had one full day off during those two months of working both jobs. What I didn’t count on was the cumulative effect of all the other days I didn’t have off. Add to that recipe the fact that I worked harder physically in that span than I have in quite some time, throw in a significant mental and emotional stress factor, and out popped the last thing in the world I expected:


For those of you that have never experienced shingles, allow me to describe it: for me, it started one day on my left hip, near my waist, as a feeling of the skin having been rubbed raw or chafed, but when I looked, it wasn’t. It almost felt like burning heat-rash but there was no rash (yet), and it was extremely sensitive to the touch. Then the next morning I woke up with a very itchy area on my stomach just to the left of my bellybutton. Two days after that, I woke up with the same burning skin feeling on my back, again near my waist.

I finally made an appointment to see the doctor the next morning, and I’m glad I did: the morning of my appointment, the little red bumps characteristic of shingles started popping up on my stomach where it had been itchy before. The doctor confirmed it was shingles and started me on anti-viral meds immediately. The rash continued to grow and spread but the meds kept it from going crazy. The weirdest part is that the pain on my back was by far the worst, but no rash ever popped out there.

Nerve pain is a trip.

You know those TV commercials you see with burly marines telling you that shingles pain is the worst they’ve ever had? Luckily it wasn’t that way for me, but it definitely wasn’t comfortable either. (I’ve known people with much worse cases than me and I have a whole new admiration for them now.) You know those novelty pin-case-gift-things you see at novelty stores, where you can put your hand or face in the pins and it leaves an impression? When I sat back against something, it felt like I was sitting against a panel of those very sharp pins. And then every once in a while, it felt like someone was stabbing me in the back with an ice pick, that was pleasant. I tried to go pants-less as much as possible, at least while at home (why not?).

I feel lucky that I caught my case fairly early and got on meds to help with the pain and the rash. I remember getting tired pretty easily and the medication caused some side effects like headaches, but I feel like I may have dodged a real bullet in terms of a more serious case. If you ever start having those sensations I describe above, please get to the doctor immediately.

I suspected my issue was shingles almost as soon as it started happening, and yet I still waited five days to go to the doctor. I kept hoping it would just turn out to be nothing; I kept saying that I didn’t want to overreact. I knew that shingles in people my age are mostly caused by high stress levels, but I kept telling myself that I hadn’t felt that stressed over those two months. Yes, I knew I’d been overworking myself at pretty tough levels in terms of both time and degree of manual labor without much (if any) rest, but I had definitely gone through times of worse stress in my life without ending up with shingles.

The day after I saw the doctor, I was resting at home and feeding my Twitter addiction when I had the following conversation with a friend of mine that lives in England:

Did you get that? Read it again. Patricia pretty much blew my mind when she said “That Body/Mind connection [is] so strong but not always obvious.”

Yes! Our relationship with time can make all the positive OR NEGATIVE difference in the world…so why do we abuse and neglect it willingly? Why do we push ourselves until the body can’t take it anymore?

In retrospect, I believe I made myself susceptible to shingles because I neglected my relationship with time and allowed myself to get worn down, plain and simple. Getting worn down weakened my immune system, which gave the dormant virus a portal. There’s a reason why the work week is five days on, two days off; we need time to rest, recharge, rejuvenate — but I hadn’t been permitting myself to do that. Both my mind and my body were being stressed beyond healthy levels, but I was refusing to listen.

I had ignored my mind/body connection, and so I paid the price. I’m just glad it wasn’t something more serious.

Our bodies are amazing vessels that take years of punishment from us and try to protect us anyway. Our brains deliver signals when the system gets overloaded or when there’s a problem, but we don’t always listen. Why not? I remember when I was going through my last separation and divorce, I chose to isolate myself while going through the process, revealing my distress and pain only to my therapist. My body started revealing signs of the severe stress: hives, fatigue, even these weird squiggly lines in my vision that the eye doctor said were signs of impending migraines and 100% stress-related.

I’ve tried to learn lessons from those times and to do a better job of listening to the signals since then. I’m going to try to not ignore the things that make me feel more balanced and just better in general. (For example: I now allow myself as much sleep as my schedule permits — it’s a magical time of rejuvenation that far too few of us take advantage of and far too many of us feel guilty about for some insane reason!) And I’m going to try to not get so upset by things that have upset me in the past (like the insane Austin traffic). Easier said than done, I know. But I know I don’t want to get shingles again, that’s for sure, so I at least have to make an effort.

I hope all of you have a wonderfully balanced body/mind week. I’m starting mine out with fresh-baked homemade all-natural pumpkin bread, so what could be better than that? It’s not a cure for shingles, but it’s definitely a stress-reliever!

Kristi Stillwell is the owner of Volunteer Abroad Consulting, which provides virtual and in-person application coaching services to adventurers wanting to volunteer abroad. She is a former Peace Corps Recruiter and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer herself in west Africa.

Originally published at