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Power of the Mind: The Wellness Philosophy

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
"What does it mean to focus on wellness? Basically, it means life style enhancements that protects the individual's physical well-being and improves the ability to cope with stressors."
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WHAT IS THE WELLNESS PHILOSOPHY?

Too often, mental health professionals focus on treating illness rather than maintaining wellness. However, the skills we bring to the treatment of psychological disorders are the same skills that can aid people with enhancing wellness. More importantly, the focus on wellness can prevent the life disruption caused by illness and the need for further treatment. What does it mean to focus on wellness? Basically, it means life style enhancements that protects the individual's physical well-being and improves the ability to cope with stressors. Frequently, these are simple techniques that most people just don't take the time to include in their lives. How many times have you said or heard others say, "I don't have time to exercise" or "I don't have time to relax?" Thus, a very important contributor to wellness is attitude: a thought process that influences the way a person approaches dealing with life.

Whether we allow ourselves to recognize it or not, we choose the type of thinking and approach we have to the world. This choice then influences other choices. For example, we may choose to think we have to prove ourselves as an employee or as a parent by perfectly meeting the demands of others. With such an attitude we will more likely forego our own needs in order to meet the expectations we believe others have of us. Our awareness of our ability to make choices can be a powerful factor in our experience of life. Too frequently, people believe that they can't have an impact on their lives, that they are just helpless victims of fate or of other people's behaviors. The truth is, however, that we have the choice available to us to be responsible for our lives. Even when someone has been mistreated or abused, they still have choices available to them. We can choose to blame others for our life situation or we can choose to examine ourselves and see what we can do about it. The power of our mind can greatly determine whether we will be healthy and happy.

HOW CAN I TAP INTO THIS POWER OF THE MIND?

You can start by examining your thinking styles for irrational reasoning. Look for the following cues:

1) A tendency to blame other people for how you feel. If you are unhappy, it isn't because of other people. It is because you choose to be unhappy. People who blame others will argue with this statement because it is uncomfortable to recognize that they are responsible for how they feel. The tendency to blame prevents people from seeing clearly what they can do to impact their lives. In terms of leading a healthy and happy life, people who blame don't believe that they have any control over their life.

2) Using "shoulds" to determine your behavior. "Shoulds" are rules you set for yourself that may be demanding and unnecessary. For example, "I should make my bed everyday or I am a lazy person." One good way of recognizing a "should" is that they usually are judgmental and you feel bad about yourself if you don't do what you think you "should," but you often feel resentful or pressured if you do it. The tendency to use "shoulds" prevent people from taking care of their needs. In terms of leading a healthy and happy live, people who "should" believe that all the "shoulds" are more important than taking care of thesmelves.

Once you have honestly assessed yourself, you are in a position to challenge these irrational beliefs. If your tendency is to blame, you can tell yourself "I can impact my life. I am responsible for my health and happiness." If your tendency is to "should," you can tell yourself "It is okay and good for me to take care of my own needs. I don't have to meet unnecessary expectations." By using statements such as these whenever you catch yourself engaging in the irrational thinking, you will begin to change your thinking. Very importantly, notice that I just said whenever you catch yourself engaging in the irrational thinking. When people are trying to change their thinking, they believe they can use these statements once or twice and their thinking should miraculously change. But it takes more work than that. You probably think the irrational thoughts many times a day and to change the thinking you need to challenge the thoughts just as frequently. Once you have changed these attitudes, you then have the opportunity to discover just how powerful your mind is to impact your life. The power you have is a very natural process that is available to everyone.

The ability to be healthy and happy is related to several simple techniques that are all related to relaxation, exercise, and nutrition. The interesting thing about these techniques is that research is beginning to show us how they impact us at a very basic level--our chemical processes. These processes involve everything about us: our thoughts, our emotions, and our behavior. For instance, relaxation produces the chemical norepinephrine with which low levels are implicated in depression. Also, exercise has been shown to produce another chemical known as endorphins which help with depression, anxiety, sleep, and sexual activity. Research is also showing that some foods such as bananas and turkey have proteins that help to create the chemical seratonin which helps with anxiety, sleep, and depression. All of these chemicals are natural chemicals that affect our bodily processes. And relaxation, exercise, and eating certain foods are things that we do that can affect the level and activity of the chemicals.

HOW CAN I USE THIS POWER TO ENHANCE MY HEALTH AND HAPPINESS?

Once you have changed your attitude and made a commitment to being healthy and happy, you can then use a variety of techniques to help. Some of the most common ones are explained here further:

1) VISUALIZATION. This is a simple process involving relaxation and visualizing. At a very basic level it may be used just to enhance mood through relaxing and imagining a very pleasant scene. However, at more advanced levels, it can also be used to enhance performance such as in a sporting event or giving a speech. I have also used it to deal with illness. If I feel myself starting to feel the effects of a virus, I will visualize my white blood cells attacking the virus. Doing such prevents me from becoming ill. Hypnosis is a form of more advanced visualization.

2) EXERCISE. A variety of exercise techniques can be used for different purposes. Aerobic exercise helps to strengthen the heart muscles and to reduce depression. Strength training helps to improve bone density and protects the body from physical strain. Yoga helps to improve flexibility and reduce anxiety.

3) MASSAGE THERAPY. The benefits of massage include relaxation, improved circulation, and enhanced mood. A variety of techniques can be used depending on the needs of the individual. Certainly, the massage therapy is a more passive technique for the individual, but it can also encourage you to take more active control of your life in other ways.



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