“We feel emotions in our bodies,” wrote Arthur Barsky, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in his book Worried Sick: Our Troubled Quest for Wellness.
“We ‘burn with anger,’ ‘tremble’ with fear, feel ‘choked up’ with sadness; our ‘stomachs turn’ with revulsion. Everyone tends to experience unpleasant emotions as unpleasant bodily symptoms and thus to feel physically distressed when emotionally distressed.”
That’s the bad news, teaches psychology experts like Drs. Arthur Barsky and Susan Grober.
The good news is that we have the power to change negative thoughts and feelings into positive, rational, motivating thoughts. This transformation, which is the foundation of an emerging field in psychology called Mind-Body Health, is very important because it can greatly boost our chances of achieving what we want in life, including a fitter, healthier lifestyle.
“By changing our minds, we really can change our lives,” asserts Dr. Grober.
The Mind-Body Connection: Our feelings and thoughts are connected to our health
Mind-Body medicine originated more than 4,000 years ago, when physicians in China noticed that illness often followed periods of frustration in their patients’ lives. Today in western societies like the U. S., medical professionals also share the view that emotions, life events, and coping skills can have a very strong influence on health.
Mind Body medicine is now a part of the exciting new field called psycho neuroimmunology, which focuses on the relationship of our thoughts and emotions to our brain chemistry and our immune system.
Chronic stress can make us fat – and sick
It is the long-term consequences of an anxiety-filled existence that are particularly troubling. Over time, chronic emotional and psychological stress can:
- Promote fat storage
- Retain salt in the body
- Destroy the body’s resistance to cancer, infections, and illness
- Cause infertility and sexual dysfunction
- Exacerbate diabetes
- Deposit cholesterol in blood vessels
- Accelerate heart rate and increase blood pressure, and thicken blood so it clots more readily, which makes you more prone to suffering a heart attack or stroke.
Calming the mind
To guide people toward healthier states of mind, merging throughout America are major medical centers with wellness divisions offering stress management, relaxation training, guided imagery, and cognitive therapy techniques.
Guests at Pritikin are also introduced to and practice many of these techniques. “Add them to healthy eating and exercising,” encourages Dr. Grober, “and you maximize your control over your well-being.”
Stress Hardiness: Attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that are linked with good health
A key goal of mind-body techniques is achieving an overall approach to life known as stress hardiness. Stress hardiness is associated with three important personality traits that buffer the impact of stress and improve coping. These characteristics of “the stress resistant “ or “healthy” personality are identified as:
- Commitment: An attitude of curiosity and commitment to yourself, your loved ones, your work, and the world.
- Control: The belief that you can respond effectively to situations that arise in your life, rather than feeling hopeless and incompetent.
- Challenge: The ability to see change as exciting and an opportunity for growth rather than viewing it as frightening and fearing failure.
Other attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that are linked with good health include:
Social support, explains Pritikin psychologist Dr. Grober, is protective against the effects of stress and has been found to be associated with longevity.
By keeping a journal or speaking with others, emotional disclosure helps people cope with events. Also, people who use these strategies have lower blood pressure and report fewer health problems compared with people who don’t.
Humor has been demonstrated to have “stress-busting” qualities and reduces the body’s physiological response to stress.
Healthy behaviors, such as developing and maintaining the Pritikin nutrition and exercise program, are crucial for optimal health.
Mind-Body Education at the Pritikin Longevity Center
To maximize emotional well-being and the ability to make positive changes, Dr. Grober guides guests at Pritikin through a five-seminar series, entitled:
- Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
- New Thoughts, New Behaviors
- Taking Charge of Stress
- Getting Closer
- Managing Your Moods
“The seminars help our guests develop the valuable skills needed to take charge of their emotional lives,” explains Dr. Grober. “That’s so vital because a healthy mind is what leads you to a healthy body – and a much happier life.”