Recently, I came across the quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tze: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
If we are to follow the logic of Lao-Tze, his quote implies that how consciously we respond to life and how we approach our everyday moment to moment existence, ultimately leads to how we adapt to challenges and stress and the overall quality of our lives.
How does stress affect the body? When the body experiences stress, levels of hormones adrenaline and cortisol rise. The heart rate follows suit, blood flow increases and digestion slows down — all part of the fight-or-flight (or sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system) response preparing the body to address the source of stress. Hundreds of years ago, this function of the sympathetic nervous system was useful when you had to escape a serious physical threat like a tiger in your cave, but now, sources of stress, while in most cases not life-threatening, have the same physiological effect on the body and are worse overall because they don’t let up. We just keep going and going.
The chronic nature of modern-day anxiety may lead to increased levels of inflammation in the body. Disease states may subsequently ensue, beginning with lowered immunity and ultimately leaving an individual more susceptible to respiratory tract infections, slowed wound healing, autoimmune disease, obesity, and possibly even depression and heart disease, among other problems. At Living Inline, we literally know what these processes feel like under our hands.
In the interest of our own physical health, it’s time to step away from the moment to moment feelings of anxiety and hysteria, even for just five minutes.
Where does one begin? Going back to Lao-Tze’s philosophy, it starts with language: both what we tell ourselves and the words we use to communicate to others. Every self-help book from the well-known Wayne Dyer’s “You’ll see it when you believe it” to the famous Russell Conwell speech “Acres of Diamonds,” the acclaimed benefits of shifting our thoughts away from self-defeating, negative processes toward affirming, positive reflections are well advertised and documented.
But is there science behind it? Indeed. A seminal study conducted more than two decades ago broke ground by establishing the connection between positive outlook and reported health. Since then, hundreds of papers have been written about the capacity of the mind-body connection to improve everything from pain tolerance to discomfort and fatigue during cancer recovery.
The moral of the story? If you face a challenge, even a small one today, instead of allowing the stress to undermine your well-being, you can shift the effects by actually changing your thoughts and your words.
Choose your words wisely. A positive outlook, and its attendant language, is an integral part of any attempt at creating ease. Research has indicated that the language we use may actually influence our visual perception of the world around us. And where does a shift toward optimism begin? Going back to our Lao-Tze quote: in our thoughts and in our words.
So what are some helpful hints:
• Cut the cursing. Hold off on harshness. A recent study showed that swear words may actually stress the brain.
• Keep it all in perspective. Don’t take it all so seriously. Researchers conducted a small study that indicated that laughing has an immediate lowering effect on levels of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Need to lighten it up in the wake of stress? I love the “Far Side” comics. Just three minutes makes me giggle. You can look them up.
• Switch off the thoughts and the electronics. The constant barrage of news and media and Facebook updates too much? Take a walk. Breathe. Meditate. Giving your mind and body a break from the constant stream of thoughts, words and worries is a powerful way to reduce tension. Give yourself five minutes a day to sit quietly and focus on the breath. Without your phone.
• Balance in the body. Of course we can add that a soothing session of creating more balance and ease in the nervous system has been found to create more physical well-being, emotional well-being, and a greater ability to adapt to and cope with stress.
Wishing you peace and a fullness of breath and spacious thinking.
• Dr. Jason Kolber is a licensed doctor of chiropractic and a certified life coach. He can be contacted at (480) 704-2787 or www.livinginline.com.