Be well, Marsha: 09/22

Is it all in your head?

By Marsha Bonhart

Photo: Julia Garner as “Sage” and Lily Tomlin as Elle Reid in “Grandma”

I wish you good health. That includes the happiness and peace of mind that accompany it. If you are a believer, you can find that salutation in the Book of John, “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you.”

If your spirituality takes another direction, know that Buddha states, “to keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom and keep our mind strong and clear.” Or, the author William Londen, “to insure good health: eat lightly, breathe deeply, live moderately, cultivate cheerfulness and maintain an interest in life.”

Each of these writings connects the mind and body to the pursuit of healthy living. The connection, according to common dictionaries, is based upon taking into account the physiological, psychic and spiritual relationships between the state of the body and that of the mind. It means how what we think can affect how we physically feel.

The theory is centuries old. Once dropped and now re-discovered, the thought process that linked stress and physical health has newer energy.

I used to think that was hogwash. I believed it was an indolent way to not pursue patients’ frequent, consistent complaints. I felt it was easier for doctors to diagnose mysterious pains and other maladies as, “all in your head” than to dig deeper and pursue what could be a hard to detect illness.

I challenged my own primary care physician to find the source of stomach pains. His diagnoses didn’t satisfy me because I was convinced I had the beginning symptoms of a serious illness. Then, after being poked, prodded, pulled, pried and pictured to find the source of my discomfort, I began to consider the possibility of a mind-body connection. I finally noticed a pattern in the sharp abdominal cramping that occurred Monday through Friday at the same time in the morning, each time I approached the gates of my workplace. My doctor insisted exercise, meditation, counseling and a new job would soothe my pained body.

Completely accepting his conclusion, to me, meant failure and I put more pressure on myself to “not fail.” That, in turn, only made me more ill. It was hard for me to receive that what was happening at my job was affecting my body. I was stronger than that; smarter than that, I thought, but my symptoms were telling me I was psychologically weakened and my emotional health was out of balance. The signals being sent to my body meant something, somewhere, was off kilter.

In an interview with WebMD, Dr. James Rippe, of the Tufts School of Medicine in Boston says, more than 30 percent of the American population has allowed stress to hinder body performance. “When we are born,” he says, “there are three automatic stages: 1. chronologic, 2. physiologic and 3. spiritual.” The chronologic, of course, is the number of years we are on the planet. Physiologic, Rippe explains, will be determined by how well we take care of ourselves and our spiritual age is determined by an active mental life; how we use mental strategies as powerful tools to promote good health.

The body is ready to fight at all times and stress is a tool but never to be used permanently. The key is to respond to challenges and then relax. The sympathetic nervous system gets us ready to stand up and beat back whatever is stressing us. It’s the parasympathetic nervous system that is responsible for relieving or relaxing the immediate stress before meeting the next set of demands.

Two of the country’s major health research agencies, the National Institute on Aging and the National Cancer Institute found that women who were diagnosed with breast cancer and had stress free lives were free of the disease for a longer period of time than women who reported high levels of anxiety. Study author Dr. David Spiegel told the National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus that a history of traumatic events early in life can have many negative physical and emotional effects.

Find balance in your life. Nirvana probably won’t be reached until the children have moved out or you have the job that makes you happy, or you finally found the secret to growing perfect tomatoes. Try not to be hung up on negative issues, wherever and whatever they are. Find and focus on what is positive and gives you a quality return.

I wish you good health.

Be Well.

Some symptoms of stress include:

Back and chest pain, change in appetite, constipation or diarrhea, dry mouth, extreme exhaustion, general aches and pains, headaches, high blood pressure, unexplained weight gain or loss, trouble sleeping, shortness of breath.

Do not self diagnose. If you are experiencing these symptoms, make sure you see a doctor for a professional opinion. 

Marsha Bonhart is a veteran television news anchor and health reporter who feels it is her mission to help you stay healthy. She says she battles her seriously addicted craving for salty potato chips. Reach her at MarshaBonhart@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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