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Sympathy Is The Devil : How Other People’s Problems Can Make You Sick

“The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative, on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” – Frank Herbert

The human body is a miraculous machine designed to allow us to thrive and survive. We have abilities above and beyond other animals on the planet that allow us to not only be Father Kidprepared for the next challenge, but to anticipate multiple challenges, threats, and potentialities that could cause us harm. We thrive in environments where we can meet threats to our immediate survival and those of our loved ones. Our bodies have the capacity to generate incredible strength, speed, and physical prowess in order to protect us from danger. Our nervous system is designed to harness these attributes in a matter of moments. Our autonomic nervous system controls our body’s breathing, heartbeat, and digestive processes in order to allow us to function at an optimal level for survival. There has never been machine more efficient, adaptable, or intelligent than the human body.

In the modern era, our nervous systems may be too good for our own benefit. The autonomic nervous system consists of two synchronistic parts, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” part of our being, reacts to danger and threats, often rather quickly bringing up our heart rate, lung capacity, physical strength, and aggression. Our bodies were designed to respond almost instantly in the face of danger, something that served man well during much of human history. This evolutionary holdover is the reason that modern man suffers from anger outbursts, road rage, and other seemingly inexplicable acts of sudden violence. In the 21st century, a hair trigger sympathetic nervous system can get one killed, arrested, or jailed for a long time.

In the absence of threats to our safety, the human mind will seek out perceived, possible, and potential threats and enter into an adrenalized state of readiness. Our sympathetic nervous system will do this without our directing it consciously. When there are no actual threats to be found, many people will seek out perceived threats by looking at what horrible, horrific, and life-threatening things are happening to other people and we inadvertently start preparing in a “what if” manner in the event that they would ever happen to us personally. People find themselves taking on a lot of anxiety and stress that’s not ours by surfing the Internet, watching television, and reading about life-threatening events happening to other people. Unfortunately, the media thrives on this and sells products through commercials attached to the stories that humans can’t get enough of, can’t take our eyes off of, and sometimes can’t stop thinking about. Our nervous systems literally become “sympathetic” to the life-threatening dangers that are happening to other people, not ourselves or our loved ones, but people who are thousands of miles away and sometimes even fictional characters.

The emotional and physical consequences of a sympathetic nervous system that has no Social-Media-Stress-Syndromedirection to place the stress is potentially life-threatening. Stress related illnesses make up over 70% of the reasons that an adult in the United States will visit their primary care physician. Modern life does not afford us the opportunity to channel  this stress into meaningful activity and this undiverted stress can lead to problems such as weight gain, hypertension, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, poor sleep, depression, anxiety, and almost any other malady that you can imagine. In addition to physical and emotional issues, it can cause problems in interpersonal relationships as well. Here’s a little experiment that will prove the point. 2016 is a presidential election year in the United States. Bring up presidential politics at the next social gathering that you go to and watch what happens. See what I mean?

A threat to a human leads to an increase in adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones. These hormones have an adaptive and evolutionary purpose, designed to give us strength in physical capabilities above and beyond what we normally have. These levels can take quite some time after the threat is over to return to the baseline levels. Many hormones, such as cortisol, receive a bad rap from people who try to eliminate them entirely. Cortisol has an inverse relationship with melatonin, the sleep hormone needed for a sound night’s sleep. When cortisol is up, melatonin is down and vice versa. This not only impacts our ability to sleep, but also impacts our ability to relax, wind down, and make rational decisions. Too much cortisol and we spin out of control, too much melatonin and we are lethargic and sluggish. The human body is designed to work in a state of balance and performs at its best when there are opposite forces working in harmony.

The parasympathetic nervous system is our body’s counterbalance to the sympathetic nervous system. This part of us is designed to bring us quickly and safely down from the adrenalized high that the sympathetic nervous system can create. The parasympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the “rest and digest, breed and feed” part of our biological makeup. It recognizes that dangers are nonexistent, not directed at us, or have been efficiently dealt with. The faster the parasympathetic nervous system can do its thing, the less damage a person suffers to their physical, mental, and social being. The parasympathetic nervous system, if not functioning well in a person, needs to be consciously developed and trained. Unfortunately, we don’t have to do anything to excite the sympathetic nervous system, life does that automatically for us. Modern life and technology make developing a sound parasympathetic nervous system without work practically impossible.

A fine tuned parasympathetic nervous system can be developed through the following activities:

Physical exercise
Meditation
Prayer
Affirmations
Proper breathing
Mindfulness
Spending time in nature
Sitting in silence
Unplugging from technology
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Sound nutrition
Meaningful interpersonal relationships
Having a pet

Some people are born with a relaxed and carefree attitude. The rest of us need to consciously work on developing and maintaining one. The good news is that developing one not only helps us physically and emotionally, but can make our lives more meaningful.

For more ideas on how to manage your stress and develop a nervous system that works for you, rather than against you, take a look at my book, “Stress Management Made 200387731-001Simple: Essays To Help Manage Your Life,” available on Amazon.com here:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00LRJF0W6

“Brothers and sisters, come on now! That means everybody just cool out! We can cool out, everybody! Everybody be cool, now. Come on.” – Mick Jagger

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Why A Balanced Lifestyle Is Unattainable

“Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.” – Epicurus

Balance, when one is talking about their lifestyle, is one of those concepts that is really hard to nail down and define. Most people who are active physically and are concernedHigh-Wire-Balancing-Act about their wellness often strive for a balance in their life without delving into what the word balance really means. In practice, however, it frequently becomes an all or nothing pursuit that eventually tips too much in the direction of hedonism or excess. People start off in their wellness plan with good intentions, but inadvertently set themselves up for failure as they strive for perfection. Perfection, unfortunately, does not exist and when a person realizes that, they usually give up on some very important components of their wellness plan or scrap the whole thing together.

In seeking balance, or anything else in life, people have to remember that perfection does not exist. It is an ideal to strive for, something that does not exist in reality, a journey rather than a destination. Nothing is ever truly in the state of balance, everything in the physical world and in person’s life is constantly in a state of flux. A balanced lifestyle must include elements that are healthy and good, while maintaining control of things that are less than perfect or even undesirable. Realizing and accepting this is one of the keys maintaining a solid, sustainable and balanced wellness plan.

“Wellness is the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There are two focal concerns: the realization of the fullest potential of an individual physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually and economically, and the fulfillment of one’s role expectations in the family, community, place of worship, workplace and other settings.” – The World Health Organization

The World Health Organization definition of wellness is very thorough and comprehensive, breaking wellness down into five basic components. In putting together your own wellness plan, consider the five areas that they have identified:

1. Physical
Exercise-Rest. If you are going to be sustaining physical exercise as part of your lifestyle, you going to have to build in periods of rest and relaxation. Knowing when to back off, tone down, work around injuries, and build in recuperative activities is essential to sustaining this portion of your plan. Sets and reps are good, but don’t forget rest, ice, planned time off, and that occasional ibuprofen.
Moderate Eating-Occasional Indulgence. No one’s ever perfect when it comes to diet and you certainly won’t be the first one. If you are eating a balanced and healthy diet 80 to 90% of the time, you are on your way towards sustaining a wellness lifestyle over the long haul. Don’t think of yourself as being “on a diet,” think of yourself as eating healthy as often as you possibly can. This lowers the mental expectations and prevents you from catastrophizing that occasional cake and ice cream or sixpack that you consume. Don’t beat yourself up! Remember grasshopper, balance! See also http://mindbodycoach.org/8020-rulelots-times-life-seems-like-merely-spinning-wheels-getting-nowhere-seemingly-reason-can-identify-things-come-together-things-often-seem/
Resistance Exercise-Cardiovascular Exercise-Athletic Movement. Your exercise routine plankshould have resistance work such as weight training, body weight exercises, resistance bands, etc. This is important at any age, but more important as something that you sustain over the lifespan. The importance of cardiovascular exercise does not even need to be explained, it’s that important. You should also find an activity that you do on a regular basis that makes you feel athletic. It can literally be athletic, such as yoga, martial arts, softball, basketball, or it can be something that gets you moving outside such as jogging, brisk walking, hiking, etc. It is very beneficial for everyone to think of themselves as being some type of athlete and to retain a competitiveness with yourself. The mental health benefits of this are probably more important than physical. See also http://mindbodycoach.org/preventing-shrinkage/ and http://mindbodycoach.org/ive-fallen-cant-get/

2. Psychological
Mood. Being able to keep your mood in a state of balance is one of life’s keys to happiness. Not overreacting during times of sadness, anger, emotional pain, and loss is an incredible life skill for anyone to develop.
Self Awareness. Knowing what your values are and living a lifestyle that is consistent with those values creates that balanced emotional state that you’re looking for in your wellness plan. Knowing what’s important to you, whose important to you, and what you believe in and value, is the first step towards living a balanced life that is consistent with those values. Again, self-examination will show some inconsistencies now and again, but that’s okay. Remember, perfection doesn’t exist.
Self Talk. Trying to maintain a healthy and positive internal dialogue with yourself is the goal here. Learn to catch yourself during times of negativity and talk yourself into a more beneficial, realistic and positive mindset. Search this site for articles on cognitive behavioral therapy for help with this.

3. Socially
Family. If you have a family that you find supportive, nurturing, and worthy of your emotional investment, congratulations. You are one of life’s fortunate people. If you don’t, create one. Humans are social creatures, needing others for survival. In the 21st century, this survival is no longer physical, but emotional. We need meaningful interactions with others in order to feel whole. John Donne and Abraham Maslow were onto something here. See also http://mindbodycoach.org/going-tribal/
Work Colleagues. If you working a 40 hour week, then you’re probably spending more time with coworkers than some family members. While you certainly don’t have to have love and affection for your coworkers, it’s probably a good idea to be able to coexist with them. Working as a team with them, accepting them for their faults, and seeing their points of view, can make the work week a little more palatable. Hopefully, you’ll have coworkers that you really care about and consider to be friends. If not, work to accept them for what they are.
Acquaintances. These are the people that you see every day as you go about your normal routine. The person at the post office, the guy at the drive through window at the coffee shop, the doorman of your office, or that neighbor who heads off to work at the same time you do. A smile, friendly wave, or acknowledgment of their existence is probably more beneficial towards your wellness than theirs.
Significant Others. If you are involved in a relationship, keep in mind that that also must be kept in balance. Also keep in mind that the 50/50 ideal of relationships does not exist. The 50% mark is a line that one crosses based on which person is the most needy at that point in time. Relationships with spouses, romantic interests, and significant others are constantly changing. Sometimes one partner is giving 90% because the other needs it. For example, if your spouse is ill, then you are helping them and giving more than your 50%. If they are going through a difficult time emotionally, you support them because they need it and you care. If you feel a resentment towards them because of this, then examine the relationship and try to work through it. If you can’t work through it, then maybe it’s not a relationship you should be in. When it comes to significant others, remember the Karl Marx quote: “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.”

4. Spiritually
Beliefs. What do you believe when it comes to ultimate questions? Where did we come from, where am I going, what becomes of me at death, is there a supreme being, divine intelligence, God etc. Many people live their lives ignoring the answer to these kinds of questions because of fear. Others, retain the beliefs of their childhood which came from organized religion and their parents. Some will study philosophies and religious traditions to find the answers that make sense to them. This aspect of a wellness plan is perhaps the most personal and private of all. It is important to your wellness to have something of an idea of what you believe in. It’s virtually impossible to feel whole and well if you don’t have a belief in something greater than yourself.

5. Economically
How Much? How much do I need in terms of money and wealth in order to feel secure, safe, and well? How much money does my family need in order for us to support each other? Do I really need to have 500 channels on my TV, a new vehicle every other year, and brand-name everything in order to feel good about my life?
Job. Do I feel good about my employment? Many people go through life feeling that their job is a drudgery. It’s something they do because “it pays well,” but don’t feel really good about what they’re actually doing. Finding some meaningful connection to the work that you do is an important part of feeling well and good about yourself. If you’re selling a product or performing a service that you don’t believe in, it’s not a good thing. If you were working simply for the money, then that’s not a good thing either. Can you compartmentalize your life? Do you find yourself working at home and on weekends because of your job demands? This is not a problem if you derive some meaning and satisfaction from doing so. If you find yourself working seven days a week for a job that you do not find emotionally satisfying or meaningful, then this part of your life is out of balance. There are, however, going to be crunch times with any job where you have to attend to it. These times are part of the nature of balance.

Wellness is far more than a physical thing, it is rather a comprehensive lifestyle that one maintains easily because it is based on beliefs and personal values. Yeah, it’s a little deeper than push-ups, sit-ups, and that walk you take every day. If you have an understanding of the role that balance plays in this, you’ll feel good about yourself way beyond the physical. Attending to these five principles will give you more awareness and overall satisfaction than simply looking good in the mirror.

“Remember, success is a journey, not a destination. Have faith in your ability. You will doboatpose just fine.” – Bruce Lee

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Find Your Ikigai : What Okinawa Can Teach Us About Longevity

Ikigai (生き甲斐, pronounced “ee-kee-guy”) is an Okinawan concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Okinawans, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life. Examples include work, hobbies and raising children. -Wikipedia

Okinawan culture is a culture that is rich in tradition, purpose, physical activity, and social connectedness. Long known for its connection to Zen, karate do, and tea ceremonies, it Toyamakatahas recently been studied in depth because of the longevity of its inhabitants. Okinawans live longer than any culture on earth, with the average being 82 years old. Per capita, they have more centenarians than any other country, and their centenarians are known for their health, vigor, lean builds, freedom from heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis. Clearly there is a lot that the Western world can learn from the culture of Okinawans.

Okinawa is the land where karate was invented, and many of these centenarians practice the art on a daily basis. The rhythmic exercise, lifelong practice, and mind-body effects of this activity are well known, but they are not the whole picture. Okinawans who do not practice karate do also have longevity as well. There are a multitude of factors that lead to the long lifespans of the inhabitants of Okinawa. (For more on the health benefits of karate do see also http://mindbodycoach.org/karate/ , http://mindbodycoach.org/best-kept-mind-body-secret/, http://mindbodycoach.org/mind-body-mr-miyagi/ )

One immeasurable factor in why the Okinawan lifespan tends to be so long and rich is something that is called ikigai. Ikigai has a number of translations, but the one that is most relevant roughly means, “the reason that I get up in the morning.” According to Okinawans, everyone should have an ikigai . Disharmony in life results from a imbalance between the mind, body, and spirit. Knowing your ikigai is a way to keep your spiritual life and your life’s purpose in balance with your position in the universe. People who have an ikigai don’t lie in bed in the morning dreading that moment when their feet hit the floor, they are energized, looking forward to the day, and except their life as a challenge. They have a purpose and this purpose is not only spiritually energizing, but physically and emotionally energizing as well.

Here is an Okinawan story that illustrates the concept:
In a small village outside of Osaka, a woman in a coma was dying. She suddenly had a feeling that she was taken up to heaven and stood before the Voice of her ancestors.

“Who are you?” the Voice said to her.

“I am the wife of the mayor,” she replied. “I did not ask whose wife you are but who you are.” “I am the mother of four children.” “I did not ask whose mother you are, but who you are.” “I am a school teacher.” “I did not ask what your profession is but who you are.”

And so it went. No matter what she replied, she did not seem to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “Who are you?”

“I am a Shinto.” “I did not ask what your religion is but who you are.” “I am the one who wakes up each day to care for my family, and nurture the young minds of the children at my school.”

She passed the examination, and was sent back to earth. The next morning she woke at sunrise, feeling a deep sense of meaning and purpose. She tended to her children’s lunches, and planned fun lessons for her students that day. The woman had discovered her ikigai.

In Western civilization many people are living in a rat race, where life feels like running on a treadmill every day. You work, go home, sleep, rinse and repeat – over and over and over again. Like the song from the 80s says, everyone’s working for the weekend. Dread those five days, recharge for two and then repeat the cycle. Most people look forward to retirement, but when retirement comes there is no purpose attached to it because for the previous 40 years there has been no ikigai. People tend to struggle to find an ikigai in retirement. Some do, but most don’t. The main purpose of most retired people in developed nations is to try to regain the health, life satisfaction, and wellness that they were robbed of from those 40 years of living a life that had no ikigai. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

Everyone, regardless of age, should try to identify their ikigai. If one waits to retirement to find their purpose it’s far too late. There are some key factors to reflect upon if you are trying to define what your ikigai is:

An ikigai is not something that drains you. It is something that you look forward to doing and that you find emotionally and spiritually energizing.
An ikigai is not something that you are working towards. It is something that you do, a journey rather than a destination. It may even be striving for perfection, an impossible task. Many Okinawans practice karate do, a martial art in which one strives for perfection of form and function, all the while knowing that it is unattainable. Yoga, golf, art, gardening, caring for pets, and cooking are all good examples of behaviors that could form your ikigai.
An ikigai is not invisible, internal, or something that you think about. It is something that you do, a behavior that you engage in that you find fulfilling.
An ikigai is something that can be summed up briefly, perhaps even in a single sentence. “I cook for my children and grandchildren,” is an example. “I meet with my buddies daily for coffee,” as simple as it is, could be an ikigai.

IkigaiFinding your ikigai need not be complicated, it can be an extension of something that you currently do regularly. It is probably something that you look forward to, really enjoy, find purpose in, and don’t think much about because it is something simple. A review of potential things that could be your ikigai may reveal many potential ikigais. That’s okay, this is not rocket science. You may have multiple ikigai and as long as they are simple and meaningful that’s great. Ikigai may change over time, and that’s okay too.

“I was eight when I moved to Florida, and I thought, “Oh great, the retirement capital of the world. I’ll be dead within a decade.” – Jarod Kintz,

When the Social Security Act was passed in 1935 it established the retirement age is 65, which at that time was the average life expectancy. Today the average retiree has between 15 and 30 years of retirement, a long time to go without a purpose in life. Depression and addiction are a seldom talked about epidemic among senior citizens in situpsthe United States. We’ve all heard anecdotal stories about that person who retired and died shortly thereafter. Perhaps if more people could find their ikigai they could live as long as seniors on Okinawa. The combination of an Okinawan mindset combined with modern medical technology should extend the life span as well as our quality of life.

Now that you know what an ikigai is, find it,

“Refire—an attitude of embracing the years ahead with enthusiasm rather than apathy.” – Morton Shaevitz, Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

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