Treating our Body in Stress, Illness, and Aging
This is the second post of a three-part series on managing stress through the ongoing pandemic. The core three components of self-care include the mind (see post here on brain resiliency), body & spirit, so these three posts will address each topic. Some of it you know, some you may not. While I desperately wish I could make the world a better place that is free of disease, strife, fear, disasters, and all of the other things that exacerbate stress, trauma, illness, grief, conflict, loneliness, despair, and the unhealthy coping habits used to endure them, I can provide a few healthier strategies for improving your health and state of mind.
Body Wisdom & Health
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It is a question worth consideration that provides insight through self-reflection and self-inquiry. It is also a great question to reflect on over one’s lifetime and see how the answer may change from lived experience and maturity.
When looking at the myriad of answers that motivates one’s life, very few people tend to answer that they want to be remembered for their body. Even the greatest athletes tend to inspire others through their courage, perseverance, heart, and soul. Consider Muhammad Ali’s brave fight with Parkinson Disease (PD) toward the end of his life when he heroically inspired the world while lighting the Olympic torch with trembling arms.
What can we learn from our body in youth and aging, in vigorous health and illness—and in times of great distress and despair?
Perhaps part of youth and health can sometimes make one forget about the body. It is easy to take for granted the marvelous workings of the body when everything is working properly and feels good. However, our bodies can alert us when we are stressed and/or experiencing uncomfortable feelings. Headaches, stomach aches, nightmares, and general exhaustion can sometimes indicate our mood. They become opportunities to check-in with oneself and see what one is feeling. A common example is an unsettling sensation in the body when we don’t want to do something or see someone. Listening to the body and saying no to situations (where you can) enhance integrity and maturity.
Even major diseases and illnesses can provide an opportunity for self-reflection when we pause and ask our body what it is trying to tell us. A number of studies have revealed that this kind of reflection that listens to one’s body helps to increase happiness and gratitude, which are the most powerful resilient feelings for health outcomes. In fact, Park et al (2014) point to research that showed optimism slowed the onset of AIDS in asymptomatic men with HIV, predicted better pulmonary function among smokers, and showed reduced pain levels and higher health outcomes among male and female patients.
In addition to listening to the body and maintaining an optimistic attitude, there are behavioral things you can do to support the health of your body. Smoking, excessive drinking, overeating, and drugs clearly harm the body’s health. I realize it can be challenging to quit these habits as the body often derives a dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter) fix from these common addictions. Unfortunately, addiction sets in because tolerance builds up, which means the immediate flood of dopamine someone might receive from say, a glass of wine, is diminished with higher consumption, leaving the person to consume more in a race to attain the dopamine. In addition, the person’s ability to handle stress diminishes which increases the demand for the next drink, more food, a pain pill, or other “drug of choice.”
Grief, trauma, chronic pain, and chronic stress get stored in the body and exacerbate this dynamic. That is why listening to your body and working with your feelings can be powerful, along with adopting healthier ways of coping.
Healthy coping practices can include working with a counselor or therapist to work through your feelings, habits, grief, trauma, and stress reactions so that you can find healthier habits and attain a more positive and optimistic outlook (which can aid your healing).
Working out, moving the body, walking, and exercise are repeatedly demonstrated to increase health and reduce stress. It burns off stress chemicals and gives you a better lasting dopamine “high”. In addition, there is mounting evidence that proves the ancient wisdom of getting outside. Garden if you can. Get your hands in dirt. Walk among the forests. Many trees actually release feel good neurotransmitters in their aerosols and can improve your immune system. For a great source of information about this along with learning how forests are key to ocean health, see Call of the Forest and/or read anything by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
In addition to exercise, you probably already know that is benefits you to drink plenty of water, eat your colors, try to avoid sugar and processed foods, and try not to indulge in fad diets as the longer-term results are not so favorable. Time and again, the data tend to reinforce the benefits of a plant-based whole foods diet. Again, if you can garden or partake in a community garden, these foods become far more affordable than the fast foods and cheaper convenience foods filled with processed chemicals.
At the end of the day, you have powerful wisdom within you that can guide you toward your best health. Even if you are physically suffering, please allow your wisdom to flow. Check-in and listen and learn what your body is telling you. Nietzche suffered from the most severe forms of debilitating migraines and described the pain served a powerful teacher for him and the work he produced. As the expression goes, “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.” This is your journey. Take your best steps as you are able—and bravely share your experience, wisdom and light with others in the ways you truly want to be remembered.
#Treating #Body #Stress #Illness #Aging