HEALTH AND EMOTIONS FLIP SIDES OF A COIN
PHOTOGRAPH BY FARZANA BEHRAM CONTRACTOR
Happiness is a state of mind we all know, but what is the nutrition for the mind? Thoughts and emotions, that's what! Farzana Behram Contractor emphatically states, our health is the outcome of the two, a fact we ignore with dire consequences.
Just as the body needs a certain balance between proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and other minerals to reach optimum levels of health and energy, each of us also needs a specific balance of mental 'nutrients' for a happy and calm mind which ensures a joyful existence and more importantly, an illness-free one.
There are various ways that one can fortify oneself. Building emotional hardiness is one of them, tuning in to optimism, another. Letting go of the past, taking the reins, shedding negative emotions, minimizing stressors are other ways of not allowing the body, mind and spirit to cave in.
To some people, happiness is a social calendar packed with parties. To others, it's having lots of free time to spend with the family and yet others to take their dog for a walk, meet people from the fraternity and talk 'dog-shop'. Whatever the preference, psychologists and medical doctors agree: Sociability of any kind is worth cultivating. According to mounting evidence, people who belong to a network of community, friends and relatives are happier and healthier, better able to cope with stress, and remarkably resistant to emotional and physical ills.
It has been proved that most important factors in health are intangibles - things like trust, honesty, loyalty, family support. In terms of preventing heart disease, it's just possible that morale is more important than jogging or not eating butter and ghee! A good relationship acts as a protective envelope against the stresses of the environment and people who have a close-knit network of intimate personal ties with other people seem to avoid disease. They maintain higher levels of health and in general, deal more successfully with life's difficulties. It isn't surprising then that the single, divorced and widowed have higher rates of many diseases and consequently, don't live as long. Studies have proved that the death rate of those who have lost their partners, particularly in women who have lost their husbands is four times higher than average. A breakdown in the social support structure precipitates a breakdown in the body's immune system.
There are many things we worry about. Increasing crime on the streets, terrorists on the lose, over population, recession, gray hair, wrinkles, traffic congestion, marriage, divorce, too much sugar, too much salt, over weight, doomsday, children's future... It's lifes' uncertainties that kill us most of the times. The future 'what-ifs' and past 'if-onlys' that the human mind constantly rummages through. Useless and unnecessary thoughts that create a devastating kind of stress. What is beyond our control, we shouldn't fret about. It causes ulcers and promotes hyper tension. Talk about graying and worse, losing hair!
There are a million factors that affect our attitudes and vulnerability to illness - not the least of which we'd like to think, include heredity and the hand of fate. But the many researchers who are studying this phenomenon are convinced that the deciding factor is firmly in our control. Happiness or misery, health or illness, they say are choices each of us makes. But why would anyone opt for misery?
Usually it's an unconscious choice based on negative thought patterns developed over years, while growing up that determine why there are those who are prone to misery. Says Dr. Dennis Jaffe, a clinical psychologist who has authored numerous books related to the power of the mind over the body, "If you continually feel frustrated by negative events you may eventually develop patterns of thinking, such as 'I'll never get what I want' or 'I know it won't work, it never does'. This leads to a deeply ingrained belief that happiness is unattainable. The rest becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
People complain that their environment is driving them crazy, that they are collapsing under the weight of stress. They see their problem as being external. The actual fact is that stress has to do with the interaction between a changing environment and you. It's not the stress which is killing you, but your reaction to that stress.
To take a strong example, the cancer pattern, which is well-established in literature. Those suffering from cancer are characterized by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness - the sense that they have been victimized by factors beyond their control and therefore have no power to change that. Strangely the same illness treats different people differently. It's in the attitude, the support system. Overcoming negatives positively is the key.
So, how do you keep yourself in check then, monitoring your stress responses? By self-awareness. Most 'burned-out' executives or people with health issues or those having difficulty coping with stress have a common characteristic: They do not tune in to their bodies. They are nor aware until things go awry. If however you do become aware of the effects of your work pattern on your body, you might realize that you need to do something to balance your rhythms. You have to listen to your body.
Many people believe that happiness is a result of circumstances, of good luck, a case of destiny. If you have made a killing at the stock exchange you are pleased, if you have gained two extra kilos you are down in the dumps- only it isn't like that. The new holistic approach to life shows us that it is in our power to change. That we owe it to ourselves to create a good, positive feeling around us that makes life worth living and it teaches us ways of doing so.
The new mind mentors also tell us that our mental attitude is a powerful influence on our physical health. Our attitudes and emotions can act as a shield against illness of all kinds, from headaches to cancer and conversely, can bring about all manner of aches and pains - all the way to even heart attacks.
Thought and behaviour can rejuvenate body/mind health. And it is our responsibility to work towards that manifestation.