Bach flower remedies can help to relieve the emotional distress that often accompanies physical illness. They are intended as a complementary therapy to be used alongside medical, surgical and psychiatric treatments rather than instead of them.
The remedies are designed to promote a positive state of mind. This is highly relevant for patients in medical settings, up to one-third of whom will be experiencing significant anxiety, depression or other psychological problems. Negative mood states not only cause mental suffering but can worsen physical decline, due to the combination of poor self care with disordered physiology including a weakened immune system. Lightening and calming of mood, whether with Bach flowers or other therapies, may therefore improve physical as well as mental health.
Psychological problems can usually be understood as a response to the multiple stresses of having a physical illness: Bodily symptoms such as pain, nausea and breathlessness. Having to wait for medical appointments, test results or starting treatment. The direct effects of the illness or its treatment on brain function. Receiving bad news about diagnosis or prognosis. Being unable to carry out former activities, or to provide for self and family. Practical difficulties with money, housing or transport. Changes in appearance. The prospect of deteriorating health. Existential questions about the cause of the illness, or what happens after death. Relatives and carers can be just as badly affected as patients themselves, though their plight is not always appreciated. Though some distress may be inevitable, it can often be minimised by apparently simple aspects of good clinical practice: clear communication, kindness, respect and practical support.
The burdens associated with physical illness are very real, and it is perhaps surprising that not all patients become seriously anxious or depressed, and that those who do can recover even if the physical illness continues to progress. Some even find the experience brings positive changes in their attitudes and lifestyle: Closer relationships. Less concern for material things and trivialities, and a sense of what is really important. Feeling able to follow their own path in life regardless of others’ opinions. Appreciation of the present day. Spiritual awareness. The Bach flowers can help to promote such benefits.
The remedies, being free of side effects or interactions, can be used alongside psychotherapies or prescribed drugs. The only possible caution is that brandy is used as a preservative during their preparation. This can be a contraindication for those who wish to avoid alcohol completely, although after the fluid has been diluted into a treatment bottle the concentration of brandy is minimal and most unlikely to have any biological effect.
Here are some examples, from the list of 38 remedies, of those flowers often relevant in cases of physical illness.
Mimulus (illustrated) for named fears, even if these seem justified.
Star of Bethlehem for shock, loss and grief.
Gentian for disappointment after a setback.
Gorse for feelings of hopelessness.
Olive for mental and physical exhaustion.
Crab Apple for feelings of uncleanliness or impaired body image.
White Chestnut for worrying thoughts.
Red chestnut for anxiety about other people, even when this is understandable.
Holly, Honeysuckle and/or Willow for those who harbour resentments about the past; there is evidence that chronic anger and hatred are risk factors for disease, whereas the practice of forgiveness has benefits for both physical and mental health.
Rescue remedy (Crisis formula) for any acute emotional distress.
Simplicity is the key to using Bach flowers. There is no need to get bogged down in the complexity of mind-body relationships, and unanswerable questions such as “Which came first – the anxiety or the heart attack?” or “Is the loss of energy due to cancer or to depression?” Remedies should be chosen according to the person’s current emotional state. There are no specific remedies for particular physical symptoms or diseases.
More detail on this topic can be found in my free ebook Bach Flowers for Mind-Body Healing. Bach flowers also play a small part in my Three Novellas, available from various online stores including Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Smashwords.com.