The way we perceive events, the way we view the world around us, the manner in which we respond to stress and interact with others all affect the way in which our body maintains homeostasis.
The reason it’s called the mind-body connection and not vice versa is because the mind is what’s doing the controlling.
We think and then we respond. And how we respond is a matter of mind over body more often than not.
Life events can be viewed as either good or bad depending on how we look at them.
Believe it or not, I knew one individual who actually enjoyed getting into traffic jams because it gave him an opportunity to think and reflect on things in his life.
And while most of us would be ready to explode into a rage, he would use the time to do something constructive like reviewing for an upcoming exam.
It’s attitude more than anything else. And attitudes, like so many other things, are conditioned responses that can be changed for the better.
Okay, so we have a bad attitude. We’d really like to feel and think differently. But how do we change attitudes in order to prevent illness and disease_ The answer is not to try and alter personality but to make small adjustments in those behaviors that, over time, will automatically change the attitudes that are affecting health.
Sometimes the best and most effective preventive medicine is to condition the brain to perceive life events in a new way. Here are ten ways to do that :
- View changes as rewarding and challenging. In most cases, change is not something we view positively. Many of us are not very good at it. Sometimes it’s simply a fear of the unknown or the fear of failure. And the older we get, the harder it is to accept change. So rather than viewing change as something negative that happens to us, we need to try and look for the positive, even if it’s a small positive. The more consistently one looks for the positive, the less negatively one feels about change in general.
- Visualize positive rather than negative results. One of the most common behaviors that causes stress, anxiety, and illness is “spectatoring.” As if we’re looking through someone else’s eyes, we visualize what’s happening to us or what will happen to us, and we don’t like what we see. Many of us feel this way when we’re about to give a speech or have sex or perform some other function. Another term for this is “performance anxiety.” To rid ourselves of this increasingly negative habit, we need to imagine success instead of failure. Once we condition the brain to see positive outcomes, we’ll quickly overcome that initial urge to think the worst.
- Take control over situations. Having a feeling of control, according to psychologists, is probably the most important and fundamental attitude we can have in order to combat stress and prevent illness. Studies have shown that we get sick, not as a result of stressful situations, long hours, job pressures, or low pay but rather from feelings that what we do, either at work or anywhere else, is beyond our control. The best way to reverse that is to get involved rather than to sit passively by and have others be the ones who take charge. We need to join, participate, volunteer, and become active. Doing whatever we can to lead instead of follow will make us feel more in control, even if we’re not.
- Don’t be a perfectionist. Since perfection does not exist, trying to be perfect can lead to burnout, isolation, depression, and eventually disease. It’s okay to try and be the best we can be. But what we need to comes to grips with is the fact that there will be always be things we can’t do as well as we’d like. We have to accept that and then move on.
- Discover your peak energy levels. Each of us has an internal biological clock that is set differently. Some of us are morning people, others have more energy during the afternoon or evening. By discovering what type of person we are, we can avoid stressful or strenuous situations that sap our energy levels and make us feel as if we’re not accomplishing what we should. On the other hand, we can schedule the most difficult tasks around our peak energy times. Recognizing when we are at our best is a good first step in eliminating burnout, limiting wear and tear on the body, and keeping our immune system healthy and functioning well.
- Take time out. Everyone, no matter how much they love what they’re doing or how stress tolerant they think they may be, needs time to help their homeostatic mechanisms recover from the work they’ve done. At work, we need to take a few minutes every two hours or so to relax and get ourselves back into a good frame of mind. We should never skip lunch if we don’t have to, and we should try and do something special on occasion to make ourselves feel important. Also, we need to listen only to the type of music that makes us feel most relaxed, not the music that’s currently popular or that we think we should be listening to. We should surround ourselves and decorate our offices with pictures we enjoy looking at and with color schemes that are soothing rather than stimulating.
- Don’t dwell on the past. Easier said than done, it’s important that we not get caught up negatively in past events. Dwelling too much on previous failures, on what we should have done, on what we should have said, only conditions the brain to intensify those negative thoughts the next time. The past is over, and the only thing we can do is work on the present and prepare for the future. Instead of worrying about what should have been, we should use our past experiences as a tool for focusing on future positive accomplishments. The most accomplished people in life, the most successful entrepreneurs, the greatest scientists and achievers all have one thing in common: they all learn from past mistakes and they all use failure as an incentive to accomplish what they set out do.
- Begin an exercise program. There’s more to exercise than simply getting fit. Regular exercise boosts our immune system and makes us fight disease more effectively. It energizes us, helps us relax, improves sex life, increases resistance, and gives us an overall feeling of health and well being. Stimulating the body refreshes the mind. Our brain requires activity by the rest of the body in order to revitalize the senses and keep us in a constant state of balance. Individuals who exercise at least 3 times a week are significantly more likely to trigger the strong immune responses needed to combat disease.
- Express feelings and emotions. Recent studies have shown that the simple act of expressing ourselves has a dramatic effect on how we feel and cope with life events. Psychologists working with people who have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) find that their patients recover more quickly and are sick less often the more they repeat the event that caused the trauma. Also, studies done since the 1980s have shown that writing about an experience dulls its emotional impact, leads to successful recovery, and actually produces stronger immune responses. This new “journal therapy” technique can have a profound effect on our health by interfering with disease processes.
- Learn to say no. If you are is a yes person, you’re less likely to feel in control and more likely to get sick. The reason is simple. Those of us who just can’t say no usually feel like we’re being taken advantage of and are angered at our helplessness and passive behavior. We get overextended, stressed out, and never seem to find time for what we want to do for ourselves. Delaying the yes decision is a good technique to use because it allows us to remove ourselves from the situation and gives us time to find an excuse. We can simply respond with, “Let me check my schedule and get back with you.” Then we can decide if we want to get involved or we can come up with some legitimate excuse we were unable to think of on the spur of the moment.
A few simple changes in how we live our day-to-day lives can have a significantly effect on our ability to prevent illness and disease. Using even some of the previous suggestions will go a long way to conditioning our brain to elicit strong and healthy immune responses.