Health is all in your mind!

Whoever said that “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away” was only partly right. The new statement for a great health is “A positive and happy mind, keeps the doctor away!” It’s true that a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet and good sleep are important for our health, but what about our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and mind-set?

While growing up, I’m sure most of us learnt the basic human anatomy and physiology in our biology textbooks. We know that there are different organs and systems in our body, and most of them are related to each other. Most of us must have also studied the connection between the nervous system and the rest of the physiological systems (like which nerve is connected to which muscle, sensory reflexes etc.) Our text books also gave us examples of hormones like adrenaline, and how it works when you are scared of something aka fight or flight etc.

Our body and mind are generally looked at as separate entities, and illness  is looked from a purely physical perspective. While most illnesses affect our physical body, the cause is not always physical! Our physical bodies are no different from our mind and thoughts. In other words, a healthy + happy mind = healthy body.

Living a healthy life is not just being functional for your day-to-day work, but “ Feeling well and at peace with your mind and body!” In other words, a life is not healthy, unless it is holistic.

A holistic life encompasses not only eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly but also filling your mind with positivity, self-love, gratitude and peace. A holistic life is a life where every single moment is actually lived and experienced to the fullest with a calm and balanced mind.

How do our thoughts affect our body?

Let’s have a look at the neurophysiology of positive thoughts –  When we are under constant stress, there is an increase in the production of a hormone called Cortisol in our body. While Cortisol is good in helping with the glucose  and fat metabolism, excess amounts of it can lead to unwanted effects like decreased muscle mass, lowered immune function, thyroid imbalance, decreased bone density etc.

So, in a nutshell, more negative thoughts lead to increased cortisol levels leading to decreased immunity and increased susceptibility to diseases. Positive thoughts regulate the cortisol levels and produce more serotonin leading to increased sense of well-being.  A positive mind-set supports brain growth and increased synaptic responses in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of our brain. The PFC regulates the cognitive, behavioural and emotional functioning.

Did you know you could change your genes with your thoughts?

If you ever had a belief that your genes control your body and life, think twice! Yes, you can control your genes 🙂 You have an enormous control over  how your genetic traits are expressed.

Extensive studies have been performed on primitive organisms (bacteria) to understand how DNA can change based on the environment and controlled situations. Most of the same studies have proven that organisms can evolve “consciously.”  The environmental factors driving the genetic behaviour not only include variables like food, temperature, stress but also our conscious thoughts, unconscious beliefs and emotions. Hence it’s possible to change our gene expression by merely changing our thoughts!

Isn’t it wonderful how health, happiness and wellbeing are all in your mind and are possible just by shifting our focus from negative to positive?

How do we achieve this positive state of mind for better health and wellness?

1) Meditate –  Meditation and mindfulness have proven to be the magic duo for living in the present moment and  making the most of your life. A simple 10-15 min practice of meditation has a profound effect not only on the way you focus and concentrate on a given task but also helps in the regulation of cortisol and hence increasing the sense of well-being.

2) Mindfulness – Mindfulness is nothing but paying attention to what you do at a certain point of time and giving your 200% attention. Mindful eating, mindful talking and mindful working are something you can incorporate into your day-to-day life.  Especially,  mindful eating is the best way to make the most of the nutritious food you consume and helps in better digestion and assimilation of the food. Paying attention to what you eat has proven to improve the benefits of the food you eat and also helps in improving the metabolism. So, stay away from the gadgets and petty talk while you eat and focus on your food and most importantly eat in silence, chew thoroughly and eat freshly made food!

3) Gratitude –  All of us have something in our life to be grateful for. Whether it’s a well paid job, a college degree or even two healthy square meals to eat everyday. Whatever the reason may be, make sure you show your gratitude to the things you have and be grateful for every little thing in your life. Practicing gratitude fills your mind with contentment and positive energy which in turn improves your overall well-being.

4) Avoid the 4 “c”s in your life – As Stephen R Covey talks in his book – the 8th habit from effectiveness to greatness, avoiding the 4cs – Criticism, comparison, complaining and competing not only will make you great, but also healthy.  Comparison,  envy and criticism will lead to increased production of cortisol leading to increased stress and susceptibility to illness. So, accept your life the way it is, make the most and best of available resources, try to give your best in whatever you do.  After all it makes no sense to ruin your health and wellbeing while worrying about others and others lives right?

5) Practice Self Love –  It’s not a crime to love yourself. Most people try to do so much for others that they forget to love and care for themselves.  It’s important to treat yourself right before you do anything for others. Weather its exceeding your manager’s expectations at work or trying to be an awesome parent or a partner, the most important thing to remember is taking some time for yourself. Whether it’s exercise, meditation or cooking a healthy meal and eating right, make sure you spend some time for yourself everyday. The more you love yourself, the more you can give to others. So, love and except yourself along with your flaws. Start looking at the positives in yourself, and strengthen the positives while progressively working to improve your negatives. Also, the more accepting and forgiving you are with yourself, the more accepting you become with others and you become less judgmental and more forgiving which again is good for your cortisol levels 😉

6) Let go of perfectionism  – There is unfortunately no such thing as “perfect”. The attitude of perfectionism is one of the major causes of stress.  As George Eliot’s saying goes – “The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.”

The desire for the “flawless” leads to perpetual displeasure in our lives. We are constantly bombarded with perfection in every aspect of life. Starting from school grades, to having the best job and having the perfect physique and looks, there is a desire for perfection everywhere.

Perfectionist attitude causes unwanted stress and anxiety which in turn leads to issues like interrupted sleep schedule and restlessness.  Stress and Anxiety are known to  be the major causes of insomnia or sleeplessness. Lack of proper sleep leads to increased cortisol levels and interferes with digestion and metabolism.

The solution to letting go of perfection is not complacency, but a healthy and positive acceptance of our flaws. While it’s important to move ahead and progress in life, it is also very important not to obsess about the same. Being successful doesn’t mean being perfect. Success is about embracing yours and others flaws and moving forward gracefully in life.

In my upcoming posts I will elaborate on mindful  cooking and eating and how gut is considered the new brain!

Thanks for stopping by  🙂