I’ve been saying it for years but finally medical science is proving me right: One of the keys to living a long healthy life is coping with stress. I’ve always believed that stress is as bad for one’s health as smoking, trans fat, and poking a bear with a stick. Furthermore, I’ve contended that people who are really old, I’m talking triple digits, have a knack for dealing with stress.
What I was really trying to say is that good mental health leads to good physical health. Now, medical science is backing up my claims. Study after study is proving that physical health and mental health are linked. You might think the medical profession had known this since Hippocrates derived his oath, but actually there have been relatively few studies done on the topic and most of them relatively recently.
Researchers have found numerous links between the two. For example, uncontrolled anger can lead to heart problems and anxiety can lead to a lack of balance. That’s not all. Poor mental states can also lead to abnormal blood pressure, diabetes, skin problems, and an increased risk of suffering a stroke.
Are you one of those unhealthy pessimists who needs further proof? Well, Dr. Nancy E. Mayo ran a study that looked at middle-aged women who survived a stroke. I’m not going to bore you by writing that the women who didn’t want to get better didn’t get better—no one needed a study to know that. What Dr. Mayo found was the women who were especially hopeless saw a thickening of the carotid artery (the artery responsible for a stroke). The most apathetic women in Mayo’s study had three times the thickening in comparison to the group’s overall average.
A study done by Bangor University (Wales) discovered that conducting a mentally fatiguing task before a physically difficult task can lead to exhaustion more quickly than when one is not mentally fatigued. So before your next physically taxing day at work, tell your boss you need the previous day off so you can stay home, relax your mind, and be at your best (think he or she will buy that?).
I need to be mentally fit in order to stay physically healthy, but how in the heck do I do that with a job, a spouse, kids, a mortgage, and a cat that can’t find the litter box?
The path to mental fitness is quite simple, although getting there can be very difficult. All you have to do is be happy. For millennia, philosophers, theologians, and greeting card companies have told us that happiness isn’t a formula but a conscious decision. If you want to be happy, just be happy. If you need a little more help try meditation, visualization, maintaining a positive attitude, and being optimistic. Another helpful technique is awareness. Being aware makes it easy to know the true nature of events and to not take things so personally.
Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., who has studied this subject at length, says happiness “helps us build resources that can help us rebound better from adversity and stress, ward off depression and continue to grow.” This doesn’t mean you can’t ever be angry, fearful, aggressive, or aggravated (some of the so-called “negative emotions), it just means you can’t feel those emotions all the time and you should try to be happy even if it’s in small amounts.