Developing Control

woman in black leather jacket wearing white framed eyeglasses covering her face

There is no longer any question about it. Many, many studies have verified that the health of our immune systems is linked to our stress levels and our attitudes about life in general. In fact, one key to a longer lifespan is managing and controlling the stresses in our day to day living.

We’ve learned a lot in this past year about new stresses that most of us had never encountered before. Words like “pandemic” “quarantine” and “coronavirus” became new additions to our personal vocabularies. “Shelter-at-home” meant more than getting in out of the rain. And as much work as possible has moved online, leading many people to feel trapped in their own homes, unable to get outside for more than a few moments of fresh air. In the first rush to contain a virus, we over-compensated in order to simply stay alive, because we didn’t know enough. From there, it’s not a huge step to shift into helplessness, hopelessness and despair.

Researchers have found that rats, given electric shocks from which they cannot escape, give up and become helpless. Later, when placed in a box where they can escape the shocks just by moving to the other side, these rats don’t even try. They also develop stomach ulcers and abnormal brain chemistry. And, it’s not because of the shocks. Another group of rats received the same amount of electricity, but they could turn the current off by pressing a bar. They remained healthy. It’s about what we are willing, or trained, to accept.

Now a certain amount of stress is good for us and can give us more energy and greater concentration. But too much stress causes our systems to break down. We see the results of this stress in changes in productivity of the workforce, and the increase of sick days at all levels of our organizations. The challenge is in training our minds to change the thought patterns that keep us in the stress loop.

Today, doctors recommend to their patients fighting cancer to put lot of time and energy into building up their immune systems. Monitoring their thoughts as carefully as controlling the diet has a great impact. If you’re concerned about living a long and healthy life, or if you’re fighting a serious illness, developing a sense of control about your life can be as important as anything else you do.

Some say you are what you eat. But it looks more and more like you are also what you think and feel.