We all are familiar with our body’s heart pounding, teeth gnashing fight or flight reaction to life’s real or imaginary terrors. The adrenaline rush that readied our pre-historic ancestors for battle when they were physically threatened is called into play by any major or minor catastrophe, even today. Confrontation with a loved one or the boss or even a colleague, bereavement in the family, divorce, loss of job, even sickness, can pose as a threat and evoke a fight or flight reaction. Whether we face the issue head-on or look for a way out, either way we are stressed.
The wear and tear these stresses have on the body can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, ulcers and hypertension, or precipitate diabetes and bring on attacks of asthma. Our body’s natural reactions to stress also depresses its own immune system (the disease fighting system of the body) making us susceptible to all sorts of infections. Colds, backache, skin rashes, headaches, etc. are also stress related. In many people, it is seen that these stress related ailments may occur after, not during, the worst of the stressful situations.
Stress related ailments could also be the result of a gradual buildup of tension due to everyday problems and difficulties, determined largely by the person’s attitudes and personality make up. Our physical health too, has an impact on our mental well-being. A chronic illness or an injury like fracture can lead to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances often lead to depression and other mental health issues.
People with anxious personalities are found to be more prone to physiological problems like thyroid malfunction, respiratory disease, gastrointestinal issues, arthritis, migraines and allergies.
Anxiety disorders have become very common lately. It’s normal to get anxious or nervous every now and then, but anxiety disorders go way beyond that. They are much more severe and last for months. Some of the usually seen anxiety disorders include panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias and social anxiety. Studies have shown that anxiety disorders precede physical health problems.
There is hope yet
According to Hippocrates, “The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.” Our brain produces substances that can improve health. They are the endorphins, the natural painkillers; gamma globulin for fortifying the immune system; and interferon for combating infections, viruses, and even cancer. These substances depend a lot on our thoughts, feelings, and expectations.
If our attitude towards an illness or life in general, is negative and we do not expect our condition to get better, then our brain may not produce enough of the substances our body needs to heal. On the other hand, if our attitude and expectations are positive, our brain is likely to produce sufficient amounts of the substances that will boost our body’s healing power.
Using hypnosis in conjunction with psychotherapy has been found to be very effective in treating a wide variety of skin problems, from acne, oral herpes (cold sores) to rashes and warts. This is because our nervous system has close links with our skin, making it highly sensitive to emotions. Calming the nervous system results in resolving these skin problems.
The ancient Indian techniques of Yoga and Ayurveda have been used for centuries to cure chronic diseases. Other alternative therapies like Tai-chi, acupuncture, chakra therapy and all kinds of massages have also become popular healing aids these days. The idea behind these techniques is to control the negative emotional reaction to any form of stress.
A subtle shift in attitudes is evident among the doctors and patients. Psychological factors are now being accommodated in treating serious diseases. It is not uncommon any more to hear doctors prescribe meditation and Pranayama to their patients.
Considering that our mental attitude, emotional states, even personality traits can have a striking impact on our physical and physiological health, it would be prudent to evaluate and modify them as well, while taking care of our health.
We must avoid becoming a perfectionist and avoid imposing expectations on ourselves to continue achieving higher levels of efficiency at all times. It is important to realize that greater spontaneity, productivity and effectiveness come with lesser anxiety and tension. In fact, stress or anxiety actually ruins our efficiency and productivity, resulting in our getting stressed further. It’s a vicious cycle, a trap, we most certainly need to steer clear from.
And any time we experience a headache, a sniffle, an unexplained rash, loss of sleep, or an unusual spike in our appetite, we should know that it’s our body telling us to slow down, and de-stress. We should learn to take breaks, put our feet up every now and then, laugh and enjoy the moment.
At the end of the day, we need to realize that our health, or lack of it, is all in our mind! And the mind is a tool – to use destructively or constructively – is our choice.
Sunita Pant Bansal hails from the Kumaon hills of the Himalayas, a region well-known for its crop of litterateurs. Her forte is decoding Hindu scriptures to show their relevance and application in today’s times. In her four decades of writing career, Sunita has authored hundreds of books for children and young adults on folk literature and mythology. For adults, her genres cover body, mind and soul.