Friday, May 04, 2012
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When I’m sick, there tends to be little anyone can do to console me. I sort of dig myself into a psychological hole, and all I can think is “Ugh I feel awful. Do I have a fever? I feel hot… I’ll never get better!” This whole ‘woe is me’ attitude doesn’t get me anywhere – in fact, it just makes me stress out and I end up feeling worse. It’s not new knowledge that stress, anxiety and other negative emotional frames of mind are bad for your health – but new research has found that positive thoughts may actually have a positive effect on your health.
Researchers found that the power of staying positive appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events. Furthermore, the study found that optimistic people don’t just live longer, they had healthier lifestyles. Happier people tended to be more engaged in healthier behaviors such as eating a healthier diet, exercising more frequently and getting more restful sleep.
“Historically, there's always been a clear link between the ability of the mind and its influence over the body,” states Dr. Alan Hilfer, Chief Psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center. Stress in and of itself creates changes in the body that affect heart rate, hormones and blood pressure. “At Maimonides, we always stress the importance of staying optimistic and reducing stress in many medical fields, but especially in cancer care,” explains Dr. Hilfer. “I'm not saying it cures cancer by any stretch of the imagination – but it improves the way people feel.” These positive thoughts reduce stress, anxiety and depression, which can exacerbate many medical conditions.
So in a world of multi-tasking, hectic days and long work hours, how can a person get a little relaxation? “Some things that I have found to be successful with my patients are meditation, visualization and kinesthetic exercises (in which you flex and unflex your muscles),” suggests Dr. Hilfer. “By calming your mind, it allows your body to relax and repair.” The good news is that, like Maimonides, many medical centers nationwide now offer access to eastern or holistic approaches for medical conditions in addition to surgical and advanced care. When offered at medical institutions, these support services, such as reiki, acupuncture, yoga and massage, may even be covered by insurance – so check with your plan.
I guess the next time I’m feeling under the weather I’ll take whatever the doctor prescribes, along with a half hour of meditation and an extra dose of positive thinking.