Our intellectual, emotional and spiritual worldview comprises much of who we are and how we operate. Here, our dynamic relationship expert Dr. Miranda Walichowski shares insight on how to make the most of life these days.
We know that stress may exacerbate illnesses such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, migraines, obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, accelerated aging, and premature death. Recently, scientists have discovered the actual process that makes illness ensue from stress. Dr. Adam Moeser and colleagues reported that the protein, corticotropin-releasing factor receptor subtype 1 (CRF1), sends signals to specific immune cells when the body is under stress. These signals cause the immune cells to release substances that trigger inflammatory and allergic responses.
One way to understand stress is to think about it as the imbalance between the inner and outer life. The disequilibrium is caused because we focus on the outer life which is comprised of work, family, social relationships, responsibilities, and daily living. The outer life provides tangible rewards when we give our time and attention it. When we neglect aspects of our outer life we see immediate and tangible consequences.
The inner life is comprised of our spirit, thoughts, emotions and feelings. The inner life is easy to neglect because it can go unperceived by us. Focusing on the inner life does not present immediate, visible consequences or benefits, until it is almost too late. However, it is important to realize that our inner world drives much of our behavior. The inner life can be nurtured to provide us with greater physical and psychological health.
Nurturing the inner life can be as simple as being conscious that we are intellectual, emotional, and spiritual beings and make small adjustments in each of those areas.
In terms of training the intellect to serve you well, “reality testing” helps. According to Drs. Steven Stein and Howard Book, “reality testing” is the capacity to see things objectively, the way they are, rather than the way we wish or fear them to be.” Stein and Book concluded that strengthening your reality testing depends on your ability to identify irrational self-talk and the ability to then dispute and debate your self-talk. The concept of “reality testing” is important when you are making decisions. The meaning we make, the way we interpret our experiences emanates from the inner life and has an impact in our outer lives. Unfortunately, the meaning we create is often negative. Many times, by being able to look at the facts of our lives objectively, we will be able to confront an issue with more efficacy and better results.
In order to take self-talk a step further, you can talk to yourself in third-person. Dr. Ethan Kross, a psychology professor from the University of Michigan, found that when we engage in self-talk in stressful and difficult situations, we gain confidence and clarity simply from the slight psychological detachment of referring to ourselves in the third-person. This small gesture of self-talk in third-person allows sufficient detachment to see the situation more objectively.
Realize that emotions are what they are— innate and automatic. But the responses that emanate from those emotions can be changed. In others words, you can change your feelings.
Wisdom from 2,000 years ago still resonates today. Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, said: “People are disturbed, not by things (that happen to them), but by the principles and opinions which they form concerning (those) things. When we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles and opinions.” Many times, when we experience emotional turmoil, we can lessen the effect by reframing the situation.
One radical way to reframe is to find gratitude in your adversity. Many research findings attest to the value of gratitude in developing a sense of emotional well-being. One can go as far as to be thankful for the stressful situation one is dealing with. Instead of seeing the problem that looms, a reframe would allow one to see a problem as an opportunity. One could also be thankful for the growth that will come by growing through the difficult situation and coming out on the other side. Wisdom, strength, and empathy are often the fruits of enduring and prevailing in difficult times. We need a well-developed inner life in order to be able to reframe the way we see challenges in the outer life.
A deep inner life is not possible without tapping into the source. The meaning of the source will vary depending on the beliefs of the individual.
Dr. Kenneth Pargament has studied the role of spirituality in mental health, and states that nearly 80% of Americans practice a faith. His findings further indicate that some positive spiritual coping methods include: seeking spiritual support from God or a higher power, engaging in rituals that facilitate life transitions, practicing spiritual forgiveness, and seeking support from a religious institution or clergy. These activities can lead us to see the “bigger” picture and many times the sinister events in our lives lose power when they are seen a broader context and when we can ascribe them to meaning that goes beyond ourselves.
As the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard stated, “Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.” Cultivating an inner life will certainly help us stay healthier and to be able to fully experience all that life offers to us.