How does anxiety live in the body when we don’t express it? What does the mind-body connection truly mean? Abolaji Ogundele riffs on these questions for us as she shares her experience with chronic disease, holistic care, and her expansion of compassion for her body and mind.
How has your relationship with your skin and whole-body health shifted over the years? Why?
My skin and I have had an interesting relationship. Since puberty we have always been at odds. My skin was heavily scattered by acne and various pimples—only later to be peppered with acne scars. My skin has always been something I’ve wanted to hide from others. ⠀
To me, having clear skin was a signal to the world not only of my cleanliness or beauty but of my worth. So, in order to bolster my worth, my skin “needed” to be covered in makeup at all times, even during high school athletic competitions. Crazy, I know! I thought my social standing was secure, but only in as much as I faithfully attended to my appearance by how well I layered my makeup. It was exhausting to say the least. The irony of the situation was that more I attempted to bolster my worth, I would continue to feel as though I had little value. ⠀
“The irony of the situation was that more I attempted to bolster my worth, I would continue to feel as though I had little value.”
A decade and some change later I still wrestle with this self-protective tendency, but my face and the amount of makeup I wear is not such a big deal to me anymore. Thankfully my face for the most part is clear, and thankfully I’m more secure in myself despite what my face looks like (I’m sure as I age further, I’ll have more self-battles to fight).⠀
Of course, life gave me another set of challenges: chronic disease in the form of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and the oh-so-lovely eczema. The latter condition I was first diagnosed with 13 years ago. It was mild and barely noticeable then. As I’ve aged and developed other conditions as well as multiple food and environmental allergies, my eczema became increasingly more noticeable. It’s mostly seen on the other parts of both arms and on my legs around my knees. Every so often I find spots on my face.
At first, I wanted to hide these dark, dry, and raised areas on my skin, but it’s often too hot for that here in Dallas. It’s made me think about how much WORK it was hiding my face in the past, and I didn’t want to be exhausted by it again. So even though my arms and legs are not so clear (slowly getting there with my primary care doctor’s holistic guidance) I choose to embrace my not-so-perfect skin.
How do you view the mind-body relationship and its impact on overall health?
I recently heard a psychologist talk about the mind-body connection and the fact that we tend to think of the body as separate from the mind. But the mind is attached to the body; they are not interdependent of each other. So essentially the mind affects the body and vice versa. For example, stress and anxiety not only signal our need for safety, security, and belonging, but we feel the effects of these signals in our gut, on our skin, joints, muscles, etc. Now I do believe there are ways that our conscious and unconscious minds limit the synchronous nature of the mind-body connection. I wasn’t taught to “listen to my body” or to explore the complexities of my emotions. For a while I just let them be, to my detriment. My body and feelings were on the back-burner until I developed chronic conditions and acknowledged my depression/anxiety. Currently, I’m under the care of a specialist physician and searching for a new therapist, which are key in impacting my overall health for good.
“Stress and anxiety not only signal our need for safety, security, and belonging, but we feel the effects of these signals in our gut, on our skin, joints, muscles.”
What are some of your go-to rituals for supporting skin health? What do they do for you (mentally or physically, or both)?
My first go-to ritual for supporting my skin health is mindfulness about what I consume. It wasn’t until I discovered my food allergies--eliminating those foods from my diet--that I realized the strong connection between gut and skin health. Removing beloved foods from my diet was difficult at first; but feeling better physically and having clearer skin feel much more important to me. I also once believed I needed a multi-step skincare routine full of serum, peels, etc. I have tried various products that sometimes worked but were not sustainable and healthy for me. I know that simple is right for me: a natural cleanser, toner, mask, serum/oil is all I need, and my skin responds well to them. My favorite ritual is applying a serum or oil to a freshly washed face. I typically use For The Biome Shield Serum with a little jojoba oil for my neck, which makes me feel pampered. I love it.
What would you like to see more of in the health and wellness space?
The health and wellness space oftentimes feels overwhelming. There is a wealth of knowledge from multiple voices and numerous products from various companies. It can be difficult to sort through them all to see what works best for me. There is no “one-size fits all,” and I wish there was more of an emphasis on this fact. For instance, I’ve seen from various spaces that garlic and onion are great for anti-inflammatory foods. I started eating them almost daily, and I loved how they seasoned my meals. However, I was recently tested and found to have a moderate garlic and onion allergy. So these “anti-inflammatory” foods were actually causing me more inflammation. This is why I believe in the importance of having a licensed medical practitioner involved in your care, especially if dealing with chronic conditions. Overall, I do hope to see more accessible holistic health and wellness care.
Written by Abolaji Ogundele