By Jack N. Singer, Ph.D.
Susan has been suffering a series of medical conditions, which her doctors have not been able to diagnose or treat effectively. On and off pain in her stomach, achiness in her neck and back and headaches have become a regular part of her life. Susan fears that she may have cancer or another dreaded disease that has been missed by her doctors. After a series of negative tests, the doctors concluded that there is no disease present and that her symptoms are the result of the stresses in her life. Stress can and does cause medical symptoms with no disease present. In fact, it has been estimated by medical practitioners that up to 75% of the patients they treat have real symptoms, but these symptoms are caused by stress alone, not by a disease. Everyone knows about relaxation, exercise and proper diet, but what other powerful strategies can Susan use to continually master the stresses in her life?
- Understand the warning signs of your “Internal Critic” at work. Your self-talk will either keep you well or make you sick. Negative, pessimistic messages that you allow to pass through your mind immediately leads to muscle tightening throughout the body. This tightening is accompanied by more rapid breathing and often high blood pressure. You can practice catching yourself when these types of negative thoughts go through your mind and make a fist, which is a reminder to STOP thinking that way. Next, take a few, deep breaths, release the fist, relax and proceed to think positively and optimistically.
There is an old saying that “What you believe, you can achieve.” Internal self-talk leads to beliefs (either positive or negative) and beliefs lead to the body’s reactions. So looking at stressful situations in a positive, optimistic way, calms the body and mind. Example: “My boss may be angry because of something else happening in his life today. I have no evidence that he is really angry at me.”
- Give yourself positive affirmations each day. Positive affirmations are positive, optimistic thoughts about your future as if you have already gotten there as of today. Since your subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between something real or imagined (for example, visualize yourself biting into a tart lemon and see what your mind tells your salivary glands to do), when you give yourself positive affirmations and imagine these things are actually happening right now, your subconscious mind wants to make them happen for you. Example: “I will remain calm and relaxed even when my teenager tries to push my buttons. It is so wonderful to have control over my emotions.”
Make a list of at least seven positive affirmations to say each morning upon arising and each evening when retiring. Say each one 10 times in the morning and 10 times in the evening, breathing slowly and imagine yourself accomplishing each affirmation as you recite it.
- Choose to make optimistic interpretations of events in your life. Recent research depicts the positive physical health consequences of finding a silver lining in every dark cloud that comes your way. When you view unfortunate, bothersome events in your life as temporary and not permanent indicators of you having a weakness or a flaw, you can continually ward off the stresses of events that take place in your life. In fact, research shows that maintaining an optimistic interpretation of events leads to remission of disease and the generation of T-cells, which are critical components of your immune systems! More importantly, Example: “Just because I haven’t found the right partner in life so far does not discourage me. I am particular and that’s good. It’s only a matter of time until I find my sole mate.”
The key here is choice. You always have the choice in how you will see a situation and deal with it. As someone once said, “You can find yourself in the middle of nowhere…or, in the middle of nowhere, YOU can find yourself!”
- Set realistic goals. When you set attainable, healthy goals and write them down, you will stay focused and have a high probability of accomplishing them. People are 11 times more likely to reach a goal when they write it down, as opposed to simply thinking about the goal. Put these goals into your computer to flash reminders to you on a regular basis. Visualize attaining these goals each night as you fall asleep and you will maximize your ability to achieve them! Write down short and long-term goals that are specific and action-oriented. Example: “I will have a pad of paper printed with the words, ‘Things to do Today’ across the top and lines with check off boxes on each page. This will help me stay focused on what I have to do each day and I will have a nice sense of accomplishment.”
A key question to ask yourself is “What behaviors could I engage in to be sure I’ll sabotage myself from meeting my goals?” If you are honest with yourself, you’ll see exactly why you haven’t reached your goals before and you’ll realize what you need to do to change those behaviors today.
- Stay close to positive people and positive influences. Unfortunately, many of you are married to, related to, or work for negative, pessimistic people. These are folks who have their own fears of change, do not take risks, and wallow in their own misery. These members of the “negativity club” want you to join them, because that helps them to justify their own behavior and ideas. Become a “Teflon” person by letting the comments of these folks bounce off you. Assert yourself and politely tell them to keep their negative opinions about you or your ideas to themselves.
Find positive, optimistic, supportive and non-judgmental people to get close to, who will encourage and reinforce you. What a breath of fresh air that will feel like!
- Find healthy ways to defuse frustration and anger. Schedule regular visits to a gym, take dancing lessons, get involved in church activities, volunteer and scream to your heart’s content at a sporting event. All of these activities have been shown to melt away angry emotions.
- Search for opportunities for fun and laughter. Research has shown the immense power of fun and laughter on both our emotions and our bodies. Sadly, the average youngster laughs more than 100 times a day, while the average adult laughs only about 15 times.We now know that a primary antidote for stress is fun, laughter and engaging your sense of humor. Whether it is reading a joke book, watching a funny movie or sitcom, or using your creativity to lighten up your workplace, bringing fun into your life is immensely important for your health. Endorphins, which override stress hormones and produce a sense of release and calm, are released by the brain every time you laugh or engage in a fun activity. In fact, the immune system is impacted in a powerful way by fun and laughter.
Someone once said the “people don’t stop laughing and having fun because they get old…they get old because they stop laughing and having fun!” So, by making sure that your life includes frequent episodes of laughing and looking at the funny side of events that take place in the world…you will surely add life to your years and years to your life!