Today’s guest post comes to us from Shari Ihsan, a health coach who specializes in helping folks navigate the Autoimmune Protocol. In her article, she shares what she’s learned, both from personal experience and in her 8+ years as a practitioner, about the critical role mindset and healthy self-talk plays in the healing process. She gives step-by-step instructions on how to revisit your “why” and rewire negative thought patterns to set yourself up for success in healing, and how doing that work encourages others to shine their light a bit brighter as well.
Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Lub-dub.
I could hear my frantic heartbeat as I switched off the engine in front of the pharmacy. Neither of us had uttered a word since we left the doctor’s office.
After the five longest minutes of my life, my inner cheerleader kicked in. “Deep breath, Shari. Now get out of the car, walk into the pharmacy, and focus on the smell of the rain. With God’s grace, dad will be ok.”
I tried to do just that but it felt like I was glued to the driver’s seat. “You OK dad?” I asked in a squeaky voice.
“Do you think this AIP thing you’re studying will work for me?” he asked in a nonchalant voice. “I’d like to avoid the meds the doctor prescribed. Maybe I can start tomorrow?”
And then I made my first mistake as a health coach.
“Are you sure you’ll be able to avoid all these things overnight? You love most of these foods, dad.”
“I do. But I love you guys more,” he said. “And I want to spend many, many more years enjoying life with your mom. And she’s so worried about my health – it would be selfish of me not to try.”
I saw it then in his big, brown soothing eyes: hope.
He didn’t see AIP as a list of “yes” and “no” foods. For him, AIP meant not having to take the cocktail of drugs which, quoting the specialist we had just seen, “would cause severe liver damage and would necessitate dialysis within the next few months but would at least make the current joint pain stop.”
Later that night, I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d had that knee-jerk reaction in the car. Where did the level-headed Shari go? I wondered.
I did a body scan – a practice I use to help me tune into my physical self when I’m stuck with an issue. As I practiced the releasing techniques, it dawned on me: I had given in to fear.
The thought of having my first AIP client left me panicked.
That’s often what we do when we’re getting close to reaching our goals, right? We know the next step will be a game-changer but the fear of the unknown kicks in. We start feeling torn inside. Frustrated. Overwhelmed. Sometimes even unworthy. Not good enough.
But here’s the thing: the results we get are a direct result of what we believe in. If, deep down, we don’t believe in our own abilities, we’ll start thinking, feeling and behaving in a way that matches up with those beliefs.
Beliefs → Thoughts → Feelings → Behaviors → Results
I believed, deep down, that I couldn’t help my dad. And that belief led to swirling thoughts like, “I’m not an AIP coach yet. I don’t know enough!” and, “You know very well that changing one’s diet is SO much more about the mindset than what to eat or not.”
These thoughts led to feelings of not-enoughness which triggered the words I blurted out (a behavior) that I immediately regretted (the result).
Now, you might be thinking, “Regret? No biggie, Shari!” I’d agree because that day my dad saw self-doubt in my eyes and he said, “With the Almighty’s grace, I know you can help me Sha. You’re awesome at what you do.” (Yes, I’ve got the best dad ever.)
But sometimes the results of low self-esteem and negative self-talk aren’t just regret. Sometimes they can even impact our physical symptoms.
Scientists found that lower self-esteem was associated with more fatigue  and increased occurrences of depression and anxiety . They even recommended “patient-centered interventions that improve self-esteem and reduce anxiety and depression” as a way to optimize IBD management .
In another study, researchers found that self-compassion could protect against inflammation caused by stress as well as inflammation-related diseases .
And gratitude was found to reduce pain , release toxic emotions , improve sleep, and aid in stress management .
When trying to get healthy, many of us go from the outside in, when we should be going from the inside out.
I’ve heard the following countless times from countless women during the 8+ years I’ve been in private practice: “I’ve tried everything but nothing sticks. I guess I’ll never be healthy.”
Do you know what common practice linked these women? They focused on changing their behavior to get the results they wanted. Makes sense. I mean we have been conditioned to believe that for things inside us to improve, something outside us needs to change first.
While that can work for some, it doesn’t work for a huge portion of us. Why? Because many of us have had some form of traumatic experience in the past .
Any trauma, especially if it occurred during childhood, can change how neurons fire . Thus, we end up conditioning ourselves to believe things that aren’t necessarily true because, at the time of the trauma, our mind somehow understood that this particular set of beliefs would ensure our survival.
This set of beliefs may have helped us in the past. But over time it loses its protective abilities, adversely affecting our happiness and resilience and thus our immune health and overall productivity levels .
I understand that this may sound daunting. That if you’ve experienced past traumas, you may feel broken. Unh unh – you’re still completely whole and enough as you are, my friend. You see, the brain continues to be plastic throughout our lives, meaning that you can rewire it.
You can reprogram maladaptive circuitry that gave rise to mental blocks and limiting beliefs.
To update your inner “software”, you want to use your conscious mind along with your subconscious mind. In a nutshell, here’s how to do so.
1. Review your beliefs by observing your thoughts.
Do you have a mental block (or multiple)? To find out, pay attention to your recurring thoughts and behavior patterns.
Are your thoughts conducive to taking action? Or do they affect your confidence thus keeping you stuck and unable to get stuff done? If it’s the latter, you have a mental block (and therefore, a reason as to why you feel stuck).
Example: You want to start AIP but your inner voice goes something like “Where are you going to find the money? Nah, now isn’t the right time.”
Why did you think that thought, even though you know deep down that AIP is the solution for you? Because you’re afraid. Why?
There are countless possibilities. For instance, for some past clients, subconscious reprogramming helped uncover past financial troubles during childhood as the root of this fear about spending money on something that isn’t guaranteed.
2. Reconnect with your why.
Why is this important? Because it’ll give you hope when you most need it.
First, start by redefining your purpose here on earth. Imagine you have only three years left. What would you start/stop doing? Why? How would you like to be remembered?
Example: As a Muslim, I believe that my purpose is to worship the Almighty alone. Sure, that includes praying. But worship also encompasses obeying His commandments which emphasizes helping all of His creatures, respecting the environment, and practicing gratitude amongst other things.
I also believe that any good soul that leaves this world will be greeted by angels, with beautiful, bright faces, bringing with them the perfumes of Paradise and good tidings. And as they take the soul to heaven, other angels will ask, “Who is this beautiful soul?”
I want them to call me Shari, the kind-hearted one who helped others in need.
Why? Because, as my little sister, Sooraya (a subconscious reprogramming expert) reminded me, the Quran chapter 5, verse 32 mentions “…if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.”
Giving people hope, helping them feel better? Yup, God willing, that’ll count as several “saved lives”.
3. Replace these thoughts through repetition.
Affirmations can work. But only after you’ve done some deep inner subconscious reprogramming first. Because I’ve noticed that conscious positive thinking (e.g. money comes to me easily) cannot, on its own, overcome negative subconscious beliefs.
One way to start this subconscious reprogramming is to reconnect with your why while you’re replacing these thoughts which aren’t serving you anymore.
Example: When my mum, my ray of light from above, passed away in April 2020, after a short but extremely painful battle (morphine was useless) against cancer, I almost gave up my profession.
“You couldn’t even connect mum’s digestive issues to colon cancer. Why d’you think you can help others? Who do you think you are? Get down from your ivory tower lady!” These thoughts filled my head. I hadn’t been able to save her. Nothing else mattered.
But I read my why everyday before she got sick. (I wrote it on a piece of paper and taped it to my wall. Then, I kept a picture of that poster on my phone.) And the mind loves what is familiar.
As weeks went by in that time of indescribable sadness, my mind went back to my why. And I remembered that my mum used to say we can only find true happiness when we bring a smile to someone’s face. Because the Almighty likes it when we’re helpful and in Islam, a smile is considered an act of charity.
As I re-read my why, do you know what happened to those destructive thoughts? Yup, they gradually faded away.
Adversity in life is meant to propel you to greatness.
You can focus on changing what you eat and how you sleep but that isn’t all that AIP is about.
On that chilly winter night in front of the pharmacy, my dad reminded me of something my mum taught me when I was a teenager: in the remembrance of God do hearts find hope and rest because when we remember Him, He will be with us every step of the way.
I know how autoimmune diseases can knock you down. But I also know that your mind will help you get back up if you reprogram it and reconnect with your why. Because doing so will increase your self-compassion, self-worth, self-esteem, self-love, resiliency, and gratitude; all of which will help you heal and do the things you want to do in life.
In other words, reconnecting with you will liberate you from your fears, allowing your own light to shine. And when you do shine, your presence will automatically liberate others and give them hope.
Yup, by shining, you’ll help others shine their light as well. Don’t let your autoimmune disease take you… Instead allow it to call out something greater in you.
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This article is such a generous tapestry of personal lived experiences, hope, family, grief, growth, scientific evidence, and faith.
Thank you for sharing your professional genius and personal stories, Shari Ihsan!
Thank you Beth for taking the time tor read it. I really appreciate it – writing this post involved lots of (teary) flashbacks 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing, Shari, and to this website for featuring someone who is so open about their faith! 🙂
It is our pleasure, Becky.
Thank you Becky for reading & commenting. Yes, Angie & Mickey definitely deserve to be applauded for being so open. They truly embody the holistic philosophy of the AIP protocol 🙂
This was just what I needed to read today! You somehow managed to bring compassion and motivation. I LOVED reading your beliefs as a Muslim and, even more, loved that they are so similar to my own. A great reminder that God loves each of us and will reach out to help when we let Him in our lives. Bless you and please keep doing what you’re doing!