Having a medical condition can make us feel powerless. Our body stops doing what it should, and starts doing things it shouldn’t. We get frustrated when no one can fix the problem. And underneath it all, it’s scary.
You can’t totally control your body, that’s for sure. But more and more, research is discovering ways that you can have a strong and powerful impact—for better or for worse—on your own health. And it’s true even when you have a very real disease.
For instance, a recent study of women with breast cancer found that those with lower levels of stress biochemicals had less pain, less fatigue and less depression. Now you may say “But it would be stressful to have breast cancer!” And of course you’d be right. But all the women had breast cancer…yet not all the women had the same levels of stress biochemicals. How they managed their stress made the difference.
Stress biochemicals increase pain, depression, fatigue, inflammation, and cause problems with sleep. Perhaps most worrisome of all, stress biochemicals destroy actual pathways in the brain. Do you sometimes feel you can’t remember like you used to? You may be right! Brain scans show that even two weeks of stress can result in loss of brain pathways that carry memory and concentration.
You can make a difference. Taking control of the things you CAN control, discovering what you can do to make healthy, affirming choices makes a difference in the actual biochemical at work in your body. Decreasing stress biochemicals, and increasing biochemicals that help you heal, can protect and enrich your brain and your body.
What can you do?
Here are seven tips to help you manage stress, decrease pain and improve mood.
1. Join a group.
Whether it’s the church you love, the support group you have grown so close to, or the extended family you enjoy so often, the experience of belonging to a group is powerful. Individuals who belong to a group where they feel supported and accepted show positive physical effects, and the research shows positive impact even when we have other not-so-healthy habits!
2. Practice meditation/guided Imagery.
The research is clear—whether you call it meditation, guided imagery or deep relaxation, it’s good for your brain and your body! You can reduce stress and pain while you increase positive mood and healthy sleep. Don’t know how? Try a guided imagery recording. Recordings that add alpha waves may help your brain relax even more deeply and richly.
3. Get some hugs.
We all need to be touched—our skin is hungry for it! Touch comforts, releases well-being biochemicals and can even help us live longer. And hugs can comfort our caregivers as much as they comfort us!
I know—you don’t have time, it’s too cold or too hot, it hurts too much–we all have reasons to avoid exercise. But though you may hurt when you exercise—you’ll hurt even more if you don’t! Exercise lubricates joints, strengthens bones, and releases healing biochemicals that help protect, repair and even renew brain cells. So get going! Ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist if you’re afraid to start on your own. They’ll help you find a plan that will work for your body.
5. Set goals.
Did you know that thinking about your values, and choosing what matters to you, changes the actual biochemicals in your brain? Setting goals gets you started, and helps you make the healthy choices you need now. Make your goals attainable. Be clear about the first step, and the next step, and the one after that. You can’t jump to the end—but step by step you can make a powerful difference.
6. Learn how to sleep well.
Yes, learn how! You can help your body learn to sleep deeply and naturally—and healthy sleep is necessary for physical health as well as emotional well-being.
7. Discover your spiritual home.
Individuals with a strong spiritual source of comfort and strength deal with stress more easily. What is your spiritual source? Are you in touch with all your spiritual life has to offer?
Now is the time to take the power and control that’s available to you. You can help your body be as healthy as you can be now. You have a powerful role in your health. It’s how you’re made!