Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
By Marcel J. Hernandez, ND
Recognize the title of this article? Did you ever watch the Disney movie, “The Lion King? In the movie, one of the character’s favorite expressions is hakuna matata, a phrase that is literally translated from Swahili as "there are no worries," or, “don’t worry, be happy.” We all know that a healthy, positive state of mind contributes to a healthier body, right? Even as I write this, I think, “easier said than done.” I don’t know anyone who lives a stress-free life.
We all have “good” days and “bad” days. Some days we just seem to wake up on the wrong side of the bed, like our biorhythm has dipped like a recession stock market. Some days we handle the stresses with ease and grace, and other days even the smallest challenge to our aplomb leaves us rattled.
The connection between our mental and physical health has been pondered for centuries. Through the 1700s and1800s, most people recognized the relationship between emotions and physical ailments and if they could afford it, patients were advised to visit hydrotherapy spas or seaside resorts when they were ill. Over time, researchers discovered the roles of bacteria, viruses, molds and environmental toxins in the disease process and new treatments like antibiotics emerged that cured illness after illness. Slowly, the emotional component of physical illness was overshadowed by the glitz of science.
Now, a couple of hundred years later, we are slowly returning to our ancestral roots, recognizing that there is a powerful mind-body connection through which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioral factors have a dramatic impact on our overall health.
How Our Emotions Affect Our Bodies
Our primary physical responses to emotional stress may include back pain, changes in appetite, chest pain, constipation or diarrhea, dry mouth, fatigue, muscular aches and pains, headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, low libido, shortness of breath, stiff neck, sweating, upset stomach, and other symptoms. Over the long term, if the emotional stress is not moderated in some way, a host of chronic illnesses like heart disease, stomach ulcers, and even cancer may develop.
Poor emotional health can weaken your body's immune system, making you more likely to get colds and other infections during emotionally difficult times. Also, when you are feeling stressed, anxious or upset, you may not take care of your health as well as you should. You may not feel like exercising, eating nutritious foods or taking medicine that your doctor prescribes. Abuse of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs may also be a sign of poor emotional health.
How can I improve my emotional health?
First, try to recognize your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and understand why you are having them. Knowledge of a problem is the first step towards solving it.
Learn to express your feelings in appropriate ways. Keeping your feelings bottled-up can make you feel worse. In a gentle way, let your loved ones know when something is bothering you. Recognize that you may need a professional perspective to help you understand and come to grips with your situation.
Live a balanced life. Avoid continuously obsessing about your emotional challenges. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be happy when you are not. While dealing with challenges, try to focus on the positive things in your life as well. Researchers have found that having a positive outlook can improve your quality of life and give your health a boost. Make time for things you enjoy.
Develop emotional strength. People with inner strength have the ability to recognize when they are stressed and cope with their feelings in positive ways. Accepting the fact that life is ever changing is a crucial part of stress adaptation.
Seek activities that calm your body, mind and spirit. Some example include exercise, hypnosis, visual imagery, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, hobbies and activities that promote relaxation.
Take care of yourself, especially when working through challenges. Good emotional health is promoted by eating regular healthy meals, getting enough sleep and exercising to relieve pent-up tension. Avoid overeating and especially avoid seeking stress relief through the use of drugs or alcohol.
I’ll close this month’s column with a happy thought: congratulations to David Bennett on this third anniversary of the Paradise Post. The Post has grown in content and style every single year of its existence through his efforts and it has become a thing of beauty.
Dr. Hernandez is happy to address your health-related questions in his column. He may be contacted at HawaiiND@BigIsland.net.