Caring for your Body, Mind, and Spirit while living with HIV

By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Let’s face it, we all have moments when we feel a little out of it, whether that’s feeling down, not feeling positive, depressed… you get the idea. We’ve all been there before! 😔 Now, have you noticed that when you feel this way, you start to feel off, physically? We’re talking about your skin breaking out, your back hurting from how tense you are, those sorts of things. 🤔

That’s because everything in your body is connected! When one aspect is out of sync, it has a domino effect on other parts of your health. On the other hand, when everything is working in tandem, you’ll feel incredible! It’s all about balance. ⚖️

See, we’ve got a mantra at Positive Peers: Body, Mind, and Spirit. Today, living with virally suppressed HIV isn’t as physically challenging as it once was, thanks to how far treatments have come. Still, we believe life should be more than just living, it should be a positive, enjoyable experience. 🤗 That’s why we believe that Body, Mind, and Spirit are important to keep in mind for anyone living with HIV.

Now that we’ve got your attention, let’s get into some details!

Strength in three parts: Body, Mind, and Spirit

Sure, it sounds catchy, but here’s what we’re talking about:

  • Body 💪🏾 = Your physical self, allowing you to experience the world with your five senses. Your body is what carries you through life, and it needs maintenance like anything else.
  • Mind 🧠 = Your thoughts, actions, and beliefs, both conscious and unconscious.
  • Spirit 👨‍❤️‍👨 = Your heart or soul. This is a little harder to explain, since we each experience the world differently, and carry varying beliefs and values. Some might describe the spirit as their connection to something bigger than themselves. This is experienced all sorts of ways— religion, meditation, dreaming, you name it!

You’ve probably heard or even used a bunch of expressions related to body, mind, and spirit, like feeling it in your gut, or knowing it in your soul. Your heart might be bursting with love 💓 or your nerves can make it feel like there are butterflies 🦋 🦋 🦋 in your stomach! We all try to connect with these three aspects of our health every day, even though we might not actively think about it.

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The big connection

We can think of body, mind, and spirit as control centers, 🕹️ connected by our nervous system. When all three are in balance, we feel at peace, and our organs and bodily systems respond accordingly.

Now, imagine you’re done with work or school for the day. You had a chance to exercise, had a snack, picked up a book, maybe reflected on your how your day went. Now, you’re in bed, about to turn off the lights. Basically, you’ve given your body, mind, and spirit a chance to balance out, before getting the best form of relaxation… getting a good night of sleep!

While resting in bed, the first change you may notice is your heart rate-- and in turn, your blood pressure-- going down to a resting level. This is your physical body, responding to you taking care of your body, mind, and spirit! Pretty cool, right? (In fact, just by getting a good night’s rest and physically resting, you may have a decreased risk of heart disease, or even benefit from a boosted immune system!)

It makes sense; the more time we can spend content and peaceful, the more time for our body to relax and rejuvenate. It’s like the difference between going to the gym 🏋️ every day, and then incorporating a rest day: our body needs time to repair itself after a few days of hard work.

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The opposite is true, too, of course. Say you’re super stressed out at work, and you don’t really know how to handle everything that’s going on. 🤯 Negative thoughts might be keeping you up at night, making you lethargic the next day. That has a ripple effect, and you might be too tired to get some exercise, or do an activity that brings you joy. You’ll end up going to bed exhausted, probably feeling a bit down in the dumps.

At this point, your body, mind, and spirit are out of balance! ❌ This can result in all sorts of effects over time, like:

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Hair loss

Keeping body, mind, and spirit in check

Now that we’ve talked about what balance DOES (and doesn’t) look like, we’ve got some tips to build long-lasting healthy habits. Just follow the two steps below!

  1. Identify actions that help you care for and respect your whole self. This might look like regularly exercising to take care of your body, keeping a gratitude journal to center your mind, and taking part in something bigger than yourself to fill your spirit, like spending time with friends.
  2. Track these actions, so you can build lasting habits!

Keep in mind that these actions can have benefits for multiple aspects of your health. Doing yoga helps the body, mind and spirit; running with friends 🏃 builds community and physical endurance. It doesn’t have to be a massive thing every day either; journaling for even five minutes before going to sleep can do wonders, we promise.

But action alone isn’t enough! You might have started a healthy habit but didn’t stick with it for long. It takes time to build habits that take care of our body, mind, and spirit. One of the best ways to build a habit is to track them!

Track, track, track… with the Positive Peers App!

When we track our activities, we’re benefiting from visual clues, reminding us to do something.

The Positive Peers app has a built-in wellness tracker for these actions, broken down by body, mind, and spirit, that are geared for people living with HIV. 😯 The Wellness Tracker allows us to watch the progress we’re making, in real time. There’s a built-in reward every time, too, with that super satisfying tick you’ll give yourself when you stick to a habit. ✅✅✅✅

  • Body: Our number one focus for your body is helping you reach U=U and staying there. That means taking your meds every single day. In the app, you can set a daily reminder, and track when you take your medication. Every day that you take your meds, and enter it in the tracker, you earn a Body Point.
  • Mind: Reading Positive Peers blogs will give you Mind Points (so great job, you already got one today 🎉), but you can also enter points for activities that benefit your brain such as reading, journaling, or meditating. 📚
  • Spirit: When you participate in our community forum, you’re reaching out and making connections with others. 🫂 This gives you an automatic Spirit point in the tracker. You can also manually claim points for things like talking with your friends or family. 📞

Learn more about building healthy habits with the Positive Peers Wellness Tracker here!

The tracker acts as both a goal setter and a source of rewards. Claiming points will soon help you know that you’re making great progress. Having a visual representation of that progress can be motivating, it becomes fun to keep that streak going.

Building habits can be hard, but you’ll surely find lifelong benefits. We know you can do it. Here’s to you for caring for your whole self! 🥳