Prof. Kim Schaefer
27 November 2017
Addiction is a common symptom of an exhausted society. Other common symptoms of exhaustion include irritation, low patience, violence to self and others, fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, loss of appetite, chronic mental and/or physical stress and chronic illness. There are not any positive symptoms of exhaustion witnessed or reported in human behavior. The list of unsafe addictive behaviors grows as humans continue to depend on pharmaceutical drugs and profit driven health care systems to numb out the low energy, the sore muscles, or fatigue that is the body’s way of asking for rest. Self care is beyond breathing, eating, bathing and sleeping. It includes alleviating stress, without causing more of it in the process to relax. If healthy stress relievers became a societal norm, and self care became priority for health management, and if mental health and thought powers were more closely controlled, greater self-healing would be accessible to all.
The challenges in modern living suppress the development of a healthy self care routine and many humans have limited concepts of the term “self care,” or why it is important to health. It is true that human behavior is one of that creates habits, and habitual duty provides very little time devoted to stress management. The demands of an active lifestyle include exhausting not only mental efforts but physical work as well if the forty hour work week is the habit. American culture is one of “survival of the fittest,” where overworking oneself is respected, expected, and for many, even required just to make ends meet. The idea of a balance of restful doings, like a ciesta or a savasana- a planned rest period in the Mexican and Indian cultures, is lost in America. The requirement to overwork is the only way of livelihood for the lower socioeconomic earners, and abandon of stress is never completely possible. These lifestyles where chronic stress is learned, and very few coping skills are known, are what is causing Americans illness and to reach out for medicines for their stress created ailments.
Addiction is prevalent, and freedom from some form of antidote to sickness is lost in synthetic and even dangerous remedies. “Over 20 million Americans over the age of 12 have an addiction (excluding tobacco).” (“Addiction Statistics, Facts on Drugs and Alcohol”). Addictions stem from seeking coping tools for modern life stressors. Beyond pharmaceutical drug dependency and illegal drug abuse, other kinds of addictions that are equally damaging to a healthy lifestyle might include caffeine and energy drinks, sugar and other junk food, media and the plethora of radioactive devices emitting invisible energy fields on a constant basis, exposure to violence and environmental toxins, sedentary living, overworking, and excessive stimulation from changing popular culture. Addiction to always being plugged into social media and devices, comprehending news or other information, or updating others is anxiety producing, and creates waves of cortisol, a commonly known stress hormone, that cannot just be washed away.
The following information is meant to support the rise in compassion for the fragility of health as well as for the awesomeness of the human body’s ability to self-heal. Self care must be made priority to create the wanted outcomes of wellness. Waters melting from the snowy mountains, to the valleys and out to the bays and oceans take many courses, paths known and unknown, with constant attempts to keep falling into place. This flow is the true nature of the falling water, just like the flowing blood in the veins with every continuous heartbeat, and inhale and exhale, renewal is naturally built into humanity the way that the canyons are naturally built by the rivers to manage the stream.
Self care will be defined in very personal ways. It is a necessary human way to regulate functioning and wellness. It is deliberate actions that include personal freedom and choice in how to integrate enough rest in response to stress. Self care is beyond basic needs being met. Breathing, eating, bathing and sleeping are all automatic functions that the body seeks whether conscious or not. Self care is looking deeper at defining needs, and includes appropriate exercise, self expression, and spiritual/mental health. Spiritual health, for sake of consideration of the healthy atheist, can be likened to mental health and/or financial health, which includes faith in a safely provided future. Faith in a future, the knowing that tomorrow is safe to look towards, is a level of emotional security that can be overlooked if one is conditioned to any kind of depression, anxiety or scarcity mindset.
Physical symptoms of fatigue are simply the body’s natural indicators that recovery is still needed. Americans are invited to ignore fatigue through a barrage of fast food options, energy drinks, coffee choices, pain relievers, overprescribed antibiotics, and over-the-counter antihistamines. The list does not end. Aisle after aisle of these common products are at every gas station, grocery and convenience store, and are designed to build business, backed by a stamp from the Federal Drug Administration approval. Alcohol and cigarettes are other choices that some use as an answer to stress, not considering that these habits create toxic overload too. These numbing agents aggravate the immune systems emergency responses, which cause shutting down of system abilities, demanding that the ill one rest and recover from both the illness and the synthetic medicines now flowing through the body. Drugging the body so it can finally rest rather than creating better health through nurturing choices, has become another common habit that overrides the body’s own barometers of immune system functions. A drugged recovery will take longer than a nurtured one, and poses chemical dependency possibility.
Food is pure power to either feed healing in the body or to feed toxins in the body. If the saying “You are what you eat.” has any meaning, it will resonate with this theme of caring about what the system digests. Every ounce of energy a human has is a result of what has been eaten or consumed. Eating healthy can take enormous will power with countless possible deterrents. Hydration is an integral part of adequate consumption and contributes to the ability to remove wastes and toxins naturally. Breathing is an automatic action of consuming. Taking a deep breath is not something that is readily accepted or understood as a tool. Most breathing is not done intentionally. The lungs have capacity to work much wider than the ribcage will allow them to expand, and are a vital muscle that can be strengthened. They feed the oxygen from the inhaled air into the blood that nurtures every cell that is the body. If conscious breathing were considered a sacred tool to accessing personal health, other processes might be measured with greater intention as well. The turtle is the slowest breathing creature, and it is also the longest living mortal on earth. Yoga practitioners practice breathing techniques and speak Sanskrit which includes a syllable that emphasizes the sound of the breath in the word- Pranayama- pronounced- Prawn-A-Yahm-(ha)-(ha is the breath sound, the last ‘a’ is “silent”), is translated as “Life Force Observances.” Different methods of breathing are used to focus and to establish a relationship with the readily accessible element that serves every cell. Focused, considerate breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system that restores the body.
Exercise is vital to keeping a body comfortable. Weight gain is a common symptom of stress combined with lack of exercise. Fortunately, exercise helps to combat tension and strengthens the immune system if it is kept in balance, if it does not become a source of stress itself and recovery is calculated in. Exercise can release old stresses, as it gets the body moving and toxins are sweated out through the pores. Natural pain relievers called endorphins are released throughout the body when physical activity and sweating is achieved, especially if it is fun. Combating stresses with a healthy exercise routine can integrate as a self-healing
The human body is similar to a natural watershed. All species of life are reliant upon healthy watersheds that clean Earths veins with its constant flow. Self care of the human body is like mountain snowfall to the watersheds below. If one winter the mountain suffers drought, all nearby lakes, rivers, creeks and springs will quickly dry up. Everything is reliant upon the clean waters of the flowing watershed. If the human body is a watershed, every self care action is a sip of fresh water filling the canyons with flowing, healthy rivers.
Earths waters are all connected, just like the body’s systems are all connected. The capabilities to heal are equal to, or perhaps far greater than the abilities to harbor chronic stress. Understanding the nervous system and its role in immunity is the greatest knowledge one can embody if personal health is to be integrated through self care. When any area of personal care in life begins to become less stable or compromised, the human body needs even greater measures of recovery to maintain a healthy equilibrium (Zmijewski). A balanced system is not under attack, while a chronically stressed body is. Rick Earle compels his readers, “researching and understanding the nervous system functions is worthwhile to anyone who wants to have more control over their internal state, and who wants to be able to manage the inevitable stressors that happen in everyday life, with more calm, confidence and certainty”.
The sympathetic nervous system is always assessing the surroundings for perceived dangers. If no threat is believed, the parasympathetic system will activate and relax the body. The two systems are always communicating about whether to lower heart rate or to increase it to maintain balance and stay safe. If there is a threat, the ‘fight or flight’ response will send adrenaline, which becomes cortisol, into the major muscle groups of the body, preparing to fight or flee in order to survive. ‘Freezing’ is the other choice when one cannot flee the source of stress. If the adrenaline is not used to flee or to fight, or otherwise get worked out of the muscles, it becomes semi-permanent tension in the body.
If one is faced with traumatic events and is not able to physically release the adrenaline, trauma will be trapped in the body, anxiety becoming a common experience if unused cortisol is residing in the system regularly. Trauma is defined as a witnessed or experienced event that is overwhelming to the body’s ability to cope. There is acute trauma, like in a car accident, natural disaster, invasive medical procedures, etc., where it is one event to recover from. The other kind of trauma is chronic trauma, as seen in combat veterans, child abuse or neglect, developmental, or any kind of physical, emotional or sexual trauma that may have been ongoing. There is also vicarious trauma, stress that is experienced by health care and/or social workers or empathic people, who learn about and ‘carry’ the burden of their clients by not discharging the assumed tensions. Any trauma can create nervous system disruption, and a lack of knowing how to respond is how it remains as tension. Chronic stress is like miniature traumas that continue to keep the body pulsing with more than enough cortisol, and habitually tense with slight to severe unease.
A great story about how the opossum handles stress is helpful here. When a predator is sensed by the sluggish moving, awkward opossum, they freeze. Instead of fighting, fleeing, or even hiding, opossums’ will fall over and ‘play dead’, assuming absolute stillness and near silent breathing, even as their predator comes close. It takes a lot of energy to hold completely still, like this supposedly dead opossum, but they trick their predators regularly and it is their truest survival skill. Long after the danger is gone, before the opossum moves on, they will rapidly, almost violently shake their bodies for a couple of minutes, like they are having a seizure. Then they get up and carry on, unscathed, and not stressed out about it. Trauma symptoms like anxiety, depression, anger, shame and more, are not observed in mammals other than humans, who have adapted to storing their stress. If the opossum can release stress through shaking, humans, and other mammals may share the ability.
A symptom of shock is a rapid change in body temperature, sweating, and uncontrolled, physical shaking, like shivering that demands that the victim lay down. Sleeping people show muscle twitches that are involuntary, and they are not conscious of the muscle movement. Massage workers and energy healers report witnessing similar experiences, of seeing their clients have physical shudders before releasing tensions. At peak sensual or sexual release, the reproductive organs, also known as pleasure centers, will spasm voluntarily. Humans show similar, natural responses to release stress as to how the opposum handles danger. If humans learned these responses as waves of tension releasing, and as a remedy for self-healing that could be learned and even cultivated, cortisol levels would naturally balance easier, and new habits in self care would blossom with ease.
The nervous system controls vital functions in the body (Burman). Reliant systems like the lymphatic, endocrine, and subsequent immune systems relax with a smooth running nervous system, or become energized to defend a weakened one. All of them rely on the vagus nerve to communicate what chemicals to create to keep a body in homeostasis. The Vagus Nerve (Fig. 1), is the humans communication link from the brain to the whole body. This long, intricate muscle starts at the base of the cranium and weaves through the canyons of the brain to the front of the eyes behind the eyebrows, travels down the throat, and webs over all of the major organs, down the spine, and finally spreading to the legs and toes.
Fig. 1 The Vagus Nerve, credit to Anatomy Next, http://www.linkedin.com/company/anatomy-next.
Vagus means ‘wanderer’, and its name infers truth that it wanders throughout every region of the body, communicating either automatic or somatic responses from the brain to the body. A cough is automatic if the lungs need to expel irritants. The stomach muscles engage, and the mouth opens wider to allow the process, All of this response movement is controlled by the vagus nerve. If fearful thoughts are believed, it is the vagus nerve that transmits cortisol and adrenaline from the brain out to the rest of the body in preparation to flee. If joyful thoughts are believed, dopamine and endorphins will be distributed instead and stimulate the immune system and homeostasis. Every thought causes an alkaline or an acidic effect on the body. Thoughts either contribute to tension or to relaxation. With developing understanding how health is related to the thought processes, nervous system maintenance, and the corresponding reaction of the body’s other systems, one will likely take a more active role in recovery, and in what is consumed as food and permitted as thought.
“Dr. Caroline Leaf, a brain researcher from South Africa with over 25 years in this field, says in Thought Life: ‘87% to 95% of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life. What we think about affects us physically and emotionally. It’s an epidemic of toxic emotions…The average person has over 30,000 thoughts a day. Through an uncontrolled thought life, we create the conditions for illness; we make ourselves sick! Research shows that fear, all on its own, triggers more than 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates more than 30 different hormones. There are INTELLECTUAL and MEDICAL reasons to FORGIVE! Toxic waste generated by toxic thoughts causes the following illnesses: diabetes, cancer, asthma, skin problems and allergies to name just a few. Consciously control your thought life and start to detox your brain!’” (Vinay).
Stress not only affects mental health, it affects physical health. When the body becomes conditioned with stress, rest becomes difficult, because rest is also a learned condition. Illness sets in, as a sign to the body that rest is the only option. “Instead of managing their stress in healthy ways, Americans are indulging in unhealthy behaviors: Almost a third of adults say they skipped a meal because of stress in the past month. Two-fifths reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress. And more than 40 percent reported that they had lain awake at night.” (Clay, R.A). Chronic mental stress is associated with an inability to relax physically or mentally (Tovian and Thorn). If one has trouble relaxing, sleep will become difficult. Sleep deprivation can be due to stress and will certainly add to stress symptoms if it goes on for too long (Beckerman). Statistics on sleep health indicate an increase in accidents, and lowered immune systems. Not getting enough rest also increases risk of serious health problems, impairs attention and memory ability, decreases sex drive, and increases weight gain, skin aging and depression.
Losing just one night of sleep is equivalent to losing half of a bucket of vital water in the desert, out in a wild village that must send several journeyman to walk five miles one way each day to fill up enough buckets of water for the society to survive. Every single day, the walk is long, and far enough away, that one trip a day is barely manageable. If the bucket has a small hole, it will be half empty by the time the leaky bucket makes it back to the village. Half of the bucket of water is not enough, so two journeys would be required, thus, twice as much work, in order to deliver the necessary hydration to the community. By the time the second journey is complete, now the travelers needs for hydration have increased, due to the extra ten mile trip. The small leak in the bucket is going to create twice the effort at twice the cost to the journeyman, and twice the cost of patience to the community. The hole in the bucket is like the loss in sleep. Just one hole, or just one night without rest will leave the container depleted. Caring for the vessel that holds the vital waters is the only insurance that all systems will stay in balance. Getting enough sleep will keep the human body vital and free of energy leaks.
Realizing that the body’s health state is just a response to the brain’s thought patterns is an empowering step towards creating health as a choice and further activating self-healing. It is easier to remember that walking became a learned habit, and that vegetables can be an acquired taste, and that talking didn’t always make sense, until skills were developed after continuing to practice. As a person develops, beliefs can become more stubborn, or more flexible, depending on the conditions. Ernest Holmes provides inclusive perspective. He is the founder of Religious Science and the New Thought, or Science of Mind spiritual movements. He lived during a time where reflection and theology were considered admirable born January 21, 1887 – and passing April 7, 1960. In his book This Thing Called You, he states “Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he thinks into it”. Holmes studied all religious paths and concluded that the commonalities reside in love and in faith. “Ask, and you shall receive.” is a statement credited to Jesus Christ that Holmes goes into in greater detail around beliefs becoming manifestations. Buddahs words are also suggested in this book with similar notions when he said, “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” He furthers with more, “The mind is everything. What you think you become,” and “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.” Holmes wrote many books on philosophy and theology that were inspired by his curious inquiries into faith and religion. These common themes arise from spiritual leaders, and from paths devoted to creating peace.
The concept that affirming health in the mind creates health in the body is implied. Affirmative thinking is what the Science of Mind develops. It is easy to send out prayers of petition, in want of better health. It is a step further in thinking to thank the powers that be that support greater health today. The shift in stating “I pray to be free from disease.”, still focuses on disease and the want of freedom from it. “I am so thankful for my health and healing.” shifts the minds elements into believing and visioning a now and a future that includes greater health. It is perhaps easier for those who have a background in faith based thinking to grasp the depth of belief and its effects on experience. It does not require devotion to a religion to develop thought based health systems, but these theories may still be dismissed by an atheist or by a cynic. If a “non-believer” can believe in scientific findings, like the placebo effect for example, the atheist is still engaging in the process of believing, or finding faith in “proven facts”. Conviction, and knowing that belief is a concept itself, is the common thread that can unify skeptics with believers. Knowing or realizing conscious and unconscious beliefs is a tool in accessing better health.
The placebo effect is measured scientific proof that humans can self-heal, or at the very least a demonstration of how the mind can influence its own healing process. “The first evidence of a physiological basis for the placebo effect appeared in the late 1970s, when researchers studying dental patients found that by chemically blocking the release of endorphins—the brain’s natural pain relievers—scientists could also block the placebo effect.” ( Harvard Health Publishing). Curious scientists started offering placebo pills in drug studies as protocol. During a placebo study, a patient receives a fake pill as a treatment, but is not told that it is only a sugar pill. This study is designed to measure the effect of mind power on the patients’ symptoms. A patient is given a pill of sugar, but is told that it has a dose of medication. If the patient believes that they are receiving an actual pharmaceutical treatment, and do experience shifts in their symptoms without an alteration in chemistry from a drug, the placebo effect is demonstrated. Not everyone responds to placebos, but more people do than do not.
It is interesting to note that not all placebos are created equal. Exploring the results of placebo studies that B. Dunning describes in the podcast The Placebo Effect from Skeptoid Media will conjecture the power of thoughts on health.
“Two pills have more effect than one. Pills with a recognized, well-known brand name and packaging are more effective than generic pills. In one large trial published in the British Medical Journal (Branthwaite A, Cooper P.), branded aspirin was more effective than generic aspirin, which was more effective than a branded placebo, which was more effective than a generic placebo. Expensive treatments are more effective than inexpensive ones. The description of the placebo’s effect is also a powerful factor. Patients who receive a strong warning from the doctor about the strength of the drug have better results than patients who receive a weaker description of the drug’s effect. Both groups show better improvement than patients who receive no information about the drug’s effect. Patients who receive placebos from someone in a white labcoat get better results than when the placebo is administered by someone not wearing a white labcoat. Better results are obtained from placebos when the doctor spends more time with the patient explaining things. The drama and invasiveness of the placebo is a significant factor in its effectiveness. For example, a shot is more effective than a pill. Electric shock is more effective than ultrasound. Acupuncture is more effective than manipulation. Paradoxically, placebo treatments that produce unpleasant side effects are more effective than placebos with no side effects.” It is easy to surmise that belief in the treatment is what caused the shift in symptoms.
“The placebo effect is more than positive thinking — believing a treatment or procedure will work. It’s about creating a stronger connection between the brain and body and how they work together,” says Professor Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, whose research focuses on the placebo effect (Harvard Health Publishing). Research also suggests that believing in a placebo stimulates the areas of the brain that involve pleasure and reward, and dopamine, a healing hormone, is released when accepting the medicine. Dopamine is known as an inflammation reducer, depression thwarter, and immune enhancer.
Beyond taking a placebo to create an outcome, there are other means of achieving healing, and increasing the production of nature’s helper, dopamine. Laughter may just be the best medicine for self-healing. Laughing causes natural physical shaking and spontaneous eruptions of firing muscles as the laugher takes in extra air, opening the lungs, and uses the vibrating voice box to expel uncontrollable giddiness. A huge laugh jars the body through ripples of tension and release, while the core tries to hold the body safely as the hilarity pulses in joyful giggles. Doses of this kind of medicine will never come with a warning label, because it is nature’s remedy. Laughter does not have to cost anything. There is a yoga path called Laughter Yoga, where devotees laugh and teach others to laugh, and hold large groups of giggle circles. Participants experience great release as the practiced laughter eventually takes over and becomes spontaneous laughter. When all laughter practice subsides, they rest and let all of the muscles relax completely, experiencing a deeply tranquil place both mentally and physically. If doctors prescribed laughter, they would quickly be out of a job. If people prescribed themselves laughter, they will find better health, and probably enjoy the process of releasing self healing dopamine.
Rick Earle offers insights on managing a calm state and integrating focus on parasympathetic healing in his article, “Bio-Hacking Ideal Health In The Modern World” (Earle). He talks about a few methods that are easy to access: Focusing on physical sensation-if caught in a moment of ‘panic’, or ‘fight-or-flight’, focus on a physical sensation to bring you back into the muscles and present. Breathing Deeply-slow down to focus on a long inhale and a relaxed exhale until the system calms. Breathing with positive association- like “breathe in love, breathe out love”, or something else that resonates. Positive mental focus and optimistic attitude-this becomes a general outlook that naturally combats stressful thoughts with hopeful ones. Regular meditation-the mind is a powerful tool and there are many types of meditation to explore. And trained muscle relaxation-this is a form of meditation and can be accessed on demand. Using the mind as a tool for intentionally created health systems will increase confident outcomes.
Dr. Masaru Emoto passionately works with water and emphasizes that humans can influence water molecules with their minds. He published experiments that he conducted where he exposed water to either positive messages or negative messages, and then froze it and photographed the crystals with a microscopic camera. In his book The Hidden Messages in Water he offers evocative findings that water will reflect the vibration of human intent, and that it can be measured and seen. Below (Fig 2) is an example of some of the images published.
Fig 2-Water Molecules- published in The Hidden Messages in Water by Dr. Masaru Emoto, https://paolodafloresta.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/the-messages-in-water/
Dr. Emoto has been met by many skeptics who dismiss his testing tactics who seek to dismiss credibility, but do not address the power of the indicators, just the ability to manipulate water based on freezing time. Dr. Emoto has not offered further replicated studies. He has however created other examples and is supported by many believers who agree with his ideas. A common kitchen experiment has become a regular phenomenon recreated by curious questioners. Many people have copied another attempt to show matter affected by water affected by thought. Here’s another image (Fig. 3) found on this same website and can be seen repeatedly on the internet that starts with water covered rice in jars. Each jar has a label and thinkers are invited to read the words when they see the jars, out loud or in silence, over the course of the experiment (some one month or more), and to capture images throughout. Common images indicate mold or dark growth over the negative jar and clear or unchanged seeming rice in the positive one.
Fig. 3-The Rice Experiment-credit https://paolodafloresta.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/the-messages-in-water/
If the human body is really made up of mostly water, these simple tests demonstrate how words and thoughts can affect human health. If thoughts can affect matter outside of the body, they could be the link between the illness and the cure of the dis-eases inside of the body. Learning how to affirm personal health becomes part of the recipe to caring for oneself. The path will be a unique discovery process, as there are many approaches. Finding what works is the key, and practicing the methods regularly will restore and empower health. These learned choices will become an automatic response when facing stress, so as to eliminate storing any level of stress or cortisol in physical tension. Some less commonly known practices that support the nervous systems are yoga nidra, restorative yoga, Ayurveda and somatic therapy. More commonly known rest enhancers include reading, writing, hiking, meditation, being with nature, napping, and unplugging from all sources of media. Stimulating, but endorphin increasing activities might include service work, baking, walking, listening to music, dancing, playing games, catching up with friends or family, and finding a personal recipe for relaxing. Tapping into what resonates with good vibrations in daily life will bring one closer to natural health. Knowing how to affirm health will always support the nervous systems reinforcements, and becomes a priority once it is known. Listening to ‘self talk’, and distinguishing the difference between statements like, “I want to be healthier, I wish I felt better.” and “I am well in many areas of my life and I choose appropriate action in my health.” will develop a better understanding of how beliefs are adopted, accidentally or intentionally, and how lifestyles form around those beliefs. Other health affirmations might include, “I see myself. I love myself. I value my self care. I know how to meet my healthcare needs. I am drawn to the healing supports that best serve me. The better I know myself, the easier I can heal. I know healing is mine.” Affirming these type of statements may not be true immediately, but believing in them, and even attempting to, will further the effect, and soon, words will be taken like medicine.
Upon developing knowledge of how a healthy nervous system functions, health is better managed. Fragile immune systems will grow stronger through careful self management. Loving the body will become top priority. Understanding the plethora of internal and external environmental exposures to toxins and their influences that can affect health will help to eliminate the avoidable troubles. Recognizing the capitalization of health care will guide individuals to make more informed decisions about who they trust as a provider. By choosing self care over self numbing, and rest that is appropriate to an individual’s unique recovery to life’s stressors, humans will shift into a more compassionate and considerate society, that can, and will want to heal itself.
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