Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
Well-being : March 12, 2000
The power of the mind
Dr. R. Muralikrishna
The author is president and CEO of Integris Mental Health Inc., one of the largest providers of mental health services in the U.S. He is also President of the James L. Hall Jr. Centre for Mind, Body and Spirit. He has maintained a private psychiatry practice for 20 years and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Centre.
If you're sick for a few days, chances are you'll tell your doctor each and every way in which your body isn't working right. It's our culture's way, after all, to understand illness as a physical problem. When we are sick, it is due to a stray germ, a troublesome gene or an unfortunate chemical reaction, and we expect our physician to prescribe a medication or procedure to fix it.
In the future, though, there may be another element added to standard healing therapies: a visit to a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or therapist. Why?
There is increasing evidence that the emotional states and behavioral factors in which mental health professionals specialised play a critical role in the prevention, onset and progression of disease. Most doctors have noticed that a patient's attitude makes a difference in recovery. Now, though, it is beginning to be realised on a much broader basis just how much influence the brain can have over the body. The proof is coming more and more quickly that the physical world and the human mind and soul are linked at the deepest levels, and each one influences the others.
Research indicates that almost all visits to primary care physicians are in some way related to mental health. About a third of "medically ill" people have psychological problems expressed as physical symptoms. Another third have illnesses as a result of dysfunctional behavior, such as addiction to alcohol, drugs, chemicals or cigarettes. The final third suffer from physical illnesses in which the cure may be influenced by the state of the patient's mind.
What can you do to tap the power of your mind? A healthy, open and caring outlook lays the groundwork for a healthy body.
The first step toward achieving that outlook is to be able to recognise, process and share feelings as soon as possible with someone you trust. Unshared feelings leave an "electrophysical residue." The longer you wait to share feelings, the more likely you are to experience them as a destructive force that leads to physical symptoms.
You may also wish to adopt these approaches:
Does this mean you can cure yourself through the power of positive thinking or happy thoughts? Not at all. It is, however, a recognition that attending to mental and emotional states may result both in a sound mind and sound body.
Away from work, you are always on the run, taking children to appointments, doing grocery shopping, taking care of household chores. At work, deadlines are crashing down upon you. The phone won't stop ringing, and each call brings still more things to be done. You are overloaded and overwhelmed. In response, you race through meals and rush to appointments. When forced to wait in lines of traffic on the highway or in lines of people at a store or the bank, you are impatient to the point of anger. You feel that no matter how fast you go, it is not fast enough.
If this describes your life, you may have what medical researchers are beginning to refer to as "time urgency." Time urgency, along with hostility, is typically a component of the hard-driving type A personality. You don't have to be type A, though, to have time urgency. So how can you know if you've got it? Take a deep breath and ask yourself these questions:
If you answered yes to any of these, you may have time urgency. It is not a healthy condition to have.
A study conducted at the University of California at San Francisco Mount Zion Medical Centre looked at 32 patients with heart disease. Thirteen of those patients also exhibited symptoms and signs of time urgency and hostility, and often experienced episodes of decreased supply of blood to the heart muscle. These episodes are often a precursor to a heart attack.
Beyond heart problems, the stress felt by people with time urgency can also cause muscle pains, headaches, high blood pressure, irritable bowels, insomnia, phobias, depression and anxiety. Your immune system may be weakened as well.
What can you do about it?
In the Mount Zion study noted above, ten of 13 patients with time urgency and hostility received counselling for 14 months. They were encouraged to change elements of their belief systems, and they did exercises intended to modify their sense of time urgency. After counselling, the intensity of time urgency of the ten counselled patients dropped 53 per cent, and the frequency of episodes of decreased blood supply to the heart declined from 6.6 to 3.1 every 24 hours. The frequency of such episodes in the three uncounselled patients did not change.
The finding that counselling can help people with time urgency is consistent with other findings on the value of stress management in combatting illness. For instance, a study at the University of California at Los Angeles looked at people recovering from melanoma surgery. Those provided education on stress management and coping skills plus an hour and a half of counselling each week for six weeks had almost half the rate of cancer recurrence and a third fewer deaths than other melanoma patients in the next five-year period that followed. Research conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre on a group of patients with psoriasis found that the skin of patients who received relaxation training along with standard phototherapy cleared more quickly than did the skin of patients receiving only the standard treatment.
This is not to suggest that if you have time urgency, you need counselling. What should you do, then?
Be objective about your life. Time urgency causes us to lose objectivity about our lives. Stop and determine why you are doing what you are doing and what steps you need to take to reach your goals.
Take responsibility for your choices. God has given all of us the same 24 hours each day. What you do with your time is your choice. Every second of the day you make choices about what to do and how to spend your time. Own up to the decisions you have made.
Drop the idea that everything must get done. Choose a small number of things to do, from accomplishing specific on-the-job tasks to more broadscale goals such as nurturing relationships with your spouse and children. Having set those priorities, act decisively in pursuing them.
Pursue meaningful relationships
All too infrequently in our busy lives we don't make time to nurture relationships. We need to connect with people on a deeper level. True intimacy replenishes our souls.
Most of us have experienced a magical moment in which everything seemed perfect. You may have had that moment while praying to your creator. You may have felt it while holding a sleeping newborn, or when you yourself were held in a warm embrace by someone who loves you. You may have felt it when listening to music, creating a work of art, labouring on a project you truly believe in or finishing your morning run.
These are moments of oneness with creation, times when every cell in your body reasonates with a sense of rightness, when every fibre of your being says life is good. These moments restore us spiritually and recharge us emotionally. They also do wonders for us physically, reinvigorating and replenishing our immune system and making us feel more vital and alive.
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