Stress & Health

Did you know, if you don’t like the emotions you are experiencing or your current state of health, you can indirectly affect change by changing your actions and thoughts?

I am not a physician or a psychiatrist; my degree is in counseling. However, it doesn’t take a doctor to understand that a person’s habits—both behavioral and cognitive—have much to do with influencing the state of their physical and mental health. There are many accounts of people being able to cure “terminal” cancer by changing their thinking or their diets. Doctors will tell you that stress is a contributing factor to many illnesses, such as headaches, including migraines, pain without a medical cause, heart disease, cancer, insomnia, ulcers, digestive problems, asthma, autoimmune disorders, obesity and some skin conditions, such as eczema.

April is Stress Awareness month so let’s look at how stress may be affecting you. When you can view stress as a chosen behavior rather than something that just “happens” to people, then it becomes clearer what to do to reduce it. Most stress comes from our behavioral choices (overcommitting, perfectionism, poor time management skills, etc.) and our cognitive processes (negative self-talk, pessimism, unrealistic expectations, etc.), all of which are within one’s power to control.

Have you attempted to change your habits and found it difficult? For those new to these concepts, it usually is. It sounds like something that will take years to perfect. I’m here to tell you it isn’t rocket science. What it takes is a sincere commitment to living your life differently while examining your current thinking. Be willing to strengthen what works and eliminate those thoughts that don’t serve you, open your heart from a position of strength rather than vulnerability, stay vigilant during the process and make corrective actions as you go.

Does this sound hard to you? It does require effort, especially in the beginning. You need to be committed to your path even when your self-sabotage tries to pull you from it. You must continue to practice your newly acquired skills and give yourself permission to not be perfect, but to be persistent. It can be helpful to have a guide/mentor/coach to show you the way. But, despite the challenge, it’s much more effective than the alternative of seeking the “quick fix.”

What’s the “quick fix”? Usually, it involves medication of some sort—the shortcut to health and happiness. This approach rarely gets at the underlying causes for your symptomatology—it only treats the symptoms on the surface. That is like removing the spoiled fruit of a tree instead of treating the roots or going to the dentist with tooth decay and being treated with Novocain.  Both solutions solve an immediate problem—you get rid of the spoiled fruit and you no longer have pain, but the underlying causes still exist, and the problem will likely recur or get worse.

I would never advise a person not to take medical advice. However, I do encourage patients to be fully informed. Check out the side effects of any medication you are prescribed. Remember these are not just “side” effects… they are effects of the drug you are ingesting. If you choose to go the medical route for immediate relief, don’t stop there. Continue to heal yourself by getting to the core of the problem. Locate the cause and work to eradicate it by changing your habits, both physical and mental. Is there something in your life preventing you from enjoying the physical and emotional health you would like? What are you willing to change to move in the direction of better health?

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