Thursday, June 16, 2016

Staying Positive Through Challenging Times

Life can be exhausting, can it not?  Relationships can be challenging, work life can be tumultuous, debt can rise astronomically in a matter of months, the trials and tribulations of parenthood can be overwhelming, etc.  Plus, there is a lot going on in the world right now and a constant stream of information brings other energy-draining issues to the forefront like disease, politics, poverty, and war.  These are trying times. 

Health often takes a backseat to dealing with these various matters.  A culture has been created in our society that has made health more a luxury taken for granted than a necessity that we must strive to achieve.  The two most common reasons to address health among American families are the onset of significant symptoms and New Year’s resolutions, the former very commonly a sign that health has already been lost and the latter a motivation that yields sustainable results just 8% of the time.  These reasons coupled with the adoption of the instant-gratification mindset into our healthcare system exhibit a significant under-appreciation of the work that must be put in to achieve health. 

Maximizing your health potential is all about goal-setting and being proactive.  It is easy to do that when things are good and life has reached one of its calmer stretches, but it is your ability to maintain your healthier habits when times get tougher that defines your overall well-being.  It is said that “stress is the leading cause of disease,” so turmoil should in fact only heighten the importance of working toward a healthy lifestyle, the single most underrated aspect of which is stress management. 

Emotions such as fear, doubt, judgment, and righteousness often promote a demoralized perspective that strips away your vitality and weakens your overall health.  Stress triggers these negative emotions and, like a vice grip on the body, forces you into detrimental long-term patterns similar to a “fight or flight” response in reaction to acute danger.  Imagine you walk outside to take out the trash and a bear is twenty yards away; your body prioritizes the internal organ systems necessary for immediate action like in Star Wars when Han Solo diverts all the power to the Millennium Falcon’s shields amidst attack.  Energy increased to certain systems means that energy must also be depleted from others, so when in stressful situations the body accentuates the function of the heart, lungs, and extremity muscles, it then deemphasizes the digestive and immune systems.  Emotional stressors must consequently be dealt with.

Navigating our respective paths toward wellness when the going gets tough begins with faith that everything is going to work out in the end.  As Napoleon Hill aptly put it when he was studying the common traits of the world’s most successful people in the early 20th century, faith is “the greatest outlet for the expression of initiative, imagination, enthusiasm, self-reliance, and definiteness of purpose.”  People genuinely grounded in faith offer us templates; when they encounter a rough patch, notice how they accept it as an opportunity and move strongly forward to the next phase of their lives. 

Faith is what allows us to see the forest through the trees, maintaining perspective during our journeys that what defeats us is not the challenges themselves but our attitude toward them; it provides a basic framework that we can operate within to give us the best chance to succeed at building ourselves into our best possible versions while life’s challenges abound.  

However, faith is merely the foundation; there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.  Your attitude is therefore incredibly influential on your life.  Your attitude's role, one might say, is to put your faith into action.  Stress management is made much easier by a fundamentally positive attitude.  The power of positivity has become somewhat clich√©, but the reason why it is so important is that it is an agent of reestablishing an emotionally even-keel without which the body remains in the subtle-but-destructive fight or flight response (to stress) and struggles to end the internal chaos thereof.  It is clinically proven that the ability to remain positive through crises yields a far healthier and productive person than a pessimistic counterpart.  Hill once noted that “a positive attitude will naturally attract the good and the beautiful.  A negative attitude will rob you of all that makes life worth living.”  

Genuine positivity allows you to see challenges in more constructive ways and to recognize that we get to choose what kind of energy with which we react to various situations.  Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you respond to it, so if you can react constructively nine out of ten times, then you are going to be an emotionally elastic person quite flexible in your ability to bounce back from assaults on your psyche. 

 “Laughter is the best medicine,” they say, because in the face of adversity it simultaneously favors confidence and zeal while suppressing deprecation and apathy; it is one of the many ways to hit your emotional reset button - a helpful tool in creating positive trains of thought.  A deep, focused breath is an additional way to prevent the onset of a negative thought pattern and coupled with a quiet affirmation that all will be well becomes doubly effective.  A song with a strong (and positive) emotional resonance is another valuable avenue; so too is a picture of a fond memory positioned in a prominent spot in your office or the thought of an upcoming event that you are really excited about.  You can also try counteracting a negative thought with three positive ones, writing them down to get yourself into the habit.

Disingenuous positivity is not helpful in the long-term, so these methods should not be thought of as distractions from problems so much as emotional segues that transition your thought patterns from the potential to dwell to the tendency to advance your day uninhibited by any antagonistic albatross. 

Like a garden, your attitude can either thrive or barely survive; it must be cultivated to be positive and left undeveloped will become negative.  It is much easier to maintain a good attitude if we take the time to gain perspective on our situations.  Finding quiet moments to relax your mind reinforces faith and breeds the wisdom necessary to endure the plethora of exhausting tasks on our mental to-do lists.  It is ever more important to find that time for reflection in an age when it seems that all mediums from television to radio to social media are clobbering us repeatedly with the world’s ills; if someone told you that you were stupid over and over again, you might eventually start to believe it, but if you sit back and think about it, you will remember that you are actually quite smart.  Thinking well makes it easier for you to be well.  Taking time to think better allows you to think well. 

While developing a constructive attitude, keep in mind that each of the five essentials of healthy living – normal function, proper nutrition, structural balance, stress management, and physical activity – are important aspects of regaining or maintaining your health as you go with life’s flow.  We do not have to use chaotic times as excuses to take backward steps toward destructive mental and physical habits.  It is all too easy to concentrate our attention on our problems, but these are the times when it becomes most important to concentrate on the brighter side of life.  Resilience is defined as battling back from adversity to become stronger than before and one of the characteristic traits of resilient people is their positive outlooks on life.  

Thinking good things for as always,

Dr. Chad

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