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How to take the distress out of stress

[From New Vegetarian and Natural Health, Spring 2010 issue]

This article is a chapter reproduced from the book, A Man Who Lived in Three Centuries Second Edition, by Roger French. It is lightly edited and abridged.

 

An academic battle has long raged as to whether nutrition or stress is the most important factor in health. The fact is that both are so important that it doesn’t matter.

Some people will get away with poor diet if they are very easy-going, while others may survive the effects of stress through good diet. Then again, others won’t be so fortunate in either case and will suffer. However, if both diet and stress are unfavourable, this is almost invariably a recipe for illness.

Conversely, if we get the diet right and handle stress well, we are likely to thrive.

If the other two key factors – regular exercise and minimising exposure to chemicals – are also covered, we have the formula for excellent health.

 

THE GREAT STRESS MAKERS

Marriage – or lack of it – is a factor in stress. Men and women who have never married die at younger ages than their married equivalents, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics report number 3302.0, 1999. Single men between 25 and 64 years of age are approximately three times more likely to die than married men in the same age group, while single women in the 25 to 64 age group are approximately two-and-a-half times more likely to die than their married counterparts. The higher rates of death are due to cancer, heart and other artery diseases, respiratory and digestive system diseases, car accidents, suicide and drugs.

Similarly, a seven-year Swedish study found that middle-aged men who have recently endured high levels of emotional stress and have no-one to turn to for emotional support are three times more likely to die within several years than those who have ample supportive relationships.

So being single is a health hazard! Quips aside, there is considerable evidence to confirm this conclusion.

A 20-year Swedish study of 1,000 men, followed up from 50 to 70 years of age, found that one of the most important factors protecting them against disease and death, even after allowing for lifestyle factors like saturated fat or smoking, is the number of people that live under the one roof! The more people you live with, the safer you are, which is why the family network is so important.

A second very important factor, the study found, is the amount of social contact that people have outside the home. In other words, the number of people in our lives is likely to be of major significance in our wellbeing and survival.

Dr Dean Ornish of the University of California, who conducted the famous Lifestyle Heart Trial (reported in The Lancet, 21st July 1990, vol 336, page 129, and the Journal of the American Medical Association, 16th December 1998, vol 280, page 2001), made the observation of people with heart disease that, “Underneath their differences, they, almost to a person, felt a sense of isolation from parts of themselves and their own feelings, isolation from other people and isolation from a higher force, whatever that meant to them.”

To which, Dr Robert Buist in The Cholesterol Myth, adds, “Ornish’s support groups quickly focussed on the concept that anything that promotes intimacy and communication is healing, while isolation, alienation and loneliness are probably among the great predictors of heart disease.”

Some years ago, reported an Australian newspaper, an Indian gentleman who was seeking volunteers for Community Aid Abroad, after spending two weeks in Sydney made the observation: “Never among the poorest of poor in India have I seen the spiritual poverty that I see about me every day here in Sydney. You drive in your cars alone, you watch television alone and you turn to your cats and dogs for company!”

So, from whatever angle we look at it, warm supportive contact with other people is one of our greatest needs with regard to staying alive and well.

If we are not fortunate enough to be part of a large family, we can keep regular contact with friends and relatives. Or, in the absence of close friends and relatives, we can join a community group. Under the heading Organisations in the ‘Yellow Pages’ telephone directories, are listed hundreds of clubs and societies that are screaming out for members – sporting clubs, bushwalking clubs, leisure groups, library groups, religions, political parties, service clubs, voluntary organisations and so on.

And how about looking at the bright side of employment? Instead of whingeing and moaning about having to go to work as we sometimes do, let us appreciate the fact that the emotional support from being part of a team at work may be second only to the family in satisfying a major need that keeps us alive and well.

The conclusion is that the most harmful kind of stress for most people is that associated with social isolation, alienation and loneliness. So let us never take our relationships for granted. Friendships require nurturing, and the effort required will bring us abundant rewards.

Another kind of stress that is potentially dangerous is grief. If it is unresolved and goes on for many months or years, serious harm to health can result. Such chronic stress can produce a persistent depression of the immune system and the number of immune cells goes down. Studies have found that, when this is prolonged, there is an increased rate of deaths from heart disease and cancer.

On the other hand, if, after the loss of a loved one, there is the support of family members, workmates and/or professional counsellors, the grief will frequently be resolved and normal life resumed. The danger has passed.

 

NOT ALL STRESS IS HARMFUL

Emotional stress is a normal part of being alive. It is impossible to live a completely stress-free existence – and you wouldn’t want to.

Stress adds excitement to many of the things we do. Whether you’re skiing down a mountain slope, watching a thriller movie or playing tennis, it’s the stress – the adrenalin ‘high’ – that makes the activity so enjoyable. Without a certain amount of stress, goals would never be pursued and challenges would not be met. It is the stress of a reasonably demanding job that keeps us on our toes, performing well. This is reflected in the adage, ‘If it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done!’ Even a reclusive monk or nun is challenged by disciplines, codes and practices.

Stress is only harmful when we are not handling it properly. The strain inside us is not the result of the events around us, but rather the view we take of these events and how we react.

Emotions such as anger, hostility, resentment, guilt and anxiety are created by our perceptions, thoughts and beliefs.

“We are like a person weighed down carrying two heavy suitcases,” says chiropractor, Paul Galbraith, in his book Meditate Rejuvenate. “One is filled with thoughts of the past (regrets and guilt) and the other is filled with thoughts of the future (worries and expectations). A person who carries two heavy bags all day will be tired all day.” Tomorrow usually won’t be any better because sleep is disturbed.

In the distant past, stress was mainly physical. Today it is mainly mental, lasting for many years until a mortgage is paid off or until we can resign or retire from a thankless job.

Because the brain controls every aspect of bodily functions and bodily chemistry, and because the brain is affected by stress, stress can affect virtually every one of the chemicals and hormones that govern body and mind. Common signs of the effects of stress include:

• Over-reacting to minor problems;

• Eating too much or too little;

• Drinking more, smoking more or out-of-control gambling;

• Insomnia;

• Impaired work efficiency and ability to make decisions;

• Neck and shoulder tension, headaches, palpitations of the heart, or skin problems;

• Persistent infections resulting from a tired immune system.

 

A lot of our problems are caused by rigid, inflexible thinking patterns. Dr Sarah Edelman, a Sydney psychologist and researcher, lists some common ones as:

• ‘I should be perfect in everything I do.’

• ‘People must always love and approve of me.’

• ‘I must always be treated fairly by others.’

• ‘If there’s a chance that something bad might happen, I should worry about it now.’

• ‘When things don’t go the way I would like them to go, it’s awful.’

 

Sarah says that these beliefs can be challenged with ‘disputing’ statements such as:

• ‘I am a normal human being and am allowed to make mistakes.’

• ‘I would like to be liked, but I don’t have to be liked by everyone.’

• ‘The world is inherently unfair, and at times I too will experience injustice.’

• ‘I can’t do anything about this (problem/event), so I let it go.’

• ‘This is disappointing and a pain in the neck, but it’s not a disaster!’ Ultimately, the effects of stress depend on personality and belief patterns, the type of stress, and whether it is temporary or prolonged.

 

A SEA OF STRESS

In modern society we are living in a sea of potential stressors, with the number and intensity growing as technology expands. As the number of stressors increases, so too does the need to learn about them and understand what is happening.

Until recently it was believed that constant pressure at work, rushing for deadlines and trying to cram more and more activities into less and less time were dangerous sources of stress. Now that psychologists are able to measure the effects of stress, it is known that this is not necessarily the case and that many people can cope with such pressures, especially if tasks are accomplished, deadlines are met and there is a high level of job satisfaction.

However, there are four emotions that, if persisting for months or years, are known to be potentially dangerous. They are anger, hostility, fear and anxiety.

It is easy for anger and hostility to develop in a society where high-density living jams people together and where rigid laws and regulations intrude into every aspect of life. The inevitable frustration from the limitations to needs, drive and initiative can easily manifest as anger and hostility.

This is also an age of fear and anxiety because of the rapid changes occurring around us constantly and the tremendous pressures on us to perform.

The effects of these forms of stress can be quite specific. Chronic anger and hostility can increase blood pressure and can harm the organ which is the body’s chemical laboratory, the liver. With chronic fear and anxiety, the body is continually in emergency mode, producing high levels of adrenalin and other stress hormones. Because these are manufactured in the body from cholesterol, the body produces more cholesterol, and also increases blood triglycerides.

Hatred and resentment arouse hostile feelings in others which bounce back on us and can easily fuel long-running cycles of mutual harm.

Extreme repression of feelings, in which frustration, anger, anxiety and other emotions are bottled up, can be very self-destructive.

Overwork is stressful when it is carried out under tension. However, if the long hours are enjoyable and satisfying, some people even thrive on it.

Too late to bed too often is an obvious stressor. To have a good day, we must have a good night’s sleep beforehand. A person who sleeps poorly cannot relax, and in turn cannot sleep soundly. This can become a vicious cycle in which tension and lack of sleep get worse and worse.

Finally, there is the latest and most insidious form of stress, one that is driving us mad! ... techno-stress. It happens when the automatic teller machine gobbles up our plastic card, when we feel guilty about not checking the telephone answering machine, when we can’t remember a pin number or when computer idiosyncrasies get us thoroughly exasperated.

Techno-stress also occurs when we are confronted with too much information, courtesy of the internet, TV, magazines and/or newspapers, or when we spend long hours on the computer, play endless video games, or do several things at once, like sending an email while speaking on the mobile phone and watching the clock to make sure we’re not late for our next meeting! Our brains are becoming overloaded and we feel overwhelmed.

 

HOW TO TAKE THE DISTRESS OUT OF STRESS

Assuming then that we are living in a sea of potential causes of stress, what hope can we possibly have of emulating the health of primitive peoples or of Eric Storm, neither of whom had the fierce pressures of modern living to contend with?

To keep things in perspective, the primitives did have stress, but it was more likely to be from the fear of invasion or anxiety about crop failure and starvation. The big differences are that they didn’t have the rat-race to contend with, nor the emotional insecurity of the nuclear family or the splintered family, nor the social isolation and loneliness that go with living in big affluent homes surrounded by forbidding fences that keep other people away.

Still, there is much we can do to protect ourselves from stress and to ease the distress that it can cause.

Firstly, we look at dealing with two of the most destructive emotions – anger and anxiety/worry. Secondly, we contemplate a number of techniques through which we can create mental peace and calm.

 

HOW TO BE COOL ABOUT ANGER

As already indicated, anger is potentially the most destructive of all emotions, so if it is a common occurrence, it is worth working on. Psychologist, Sarah Edelman, provides strategies for managing anger. In brief, they are:

1. Do, don’t stew! In many cases there are positive steps we can take to deal with the problem. If it’s a neighbour’s barking dog, it might mean talking to the neighbour and explaining that it is bothering you. Grovel a bit if it helps. Honest, non-threatening communication is often all that is required.

But if there is nothing you can do, learn to let it go. Accept that life won’t always be fair. There is a lot of wisdom in the saying: ‘Give me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change; the courage to change those that I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.’

2. Change inflexible beliefs ... such as the ones mentioned earlier, for example, that the world should be a fair place and you should always be treated fairly, or that you should never be inconvenienced.

A common example is, if you are cursing and tooting at a slow driver in the car in front, but he is totally oblivious of you, and you are starting to feel angry, ask yourself, “What am I telling myself to make me feel angry?” Is it, “I must never be late”, or, “I am a fair and reasonable driver, therefore all other people on the road must also be fair and reasonable”? You might then focus on a more rational thought, for instance, “This guy is a lousy driver, which just goes to show that people aren’t perfect and, for that matter, neither am I.”

3. Develop empathy. This means mentally placing yourself where you can view the situation through the other person’s eyes to try to understand where they are coming from. Empathy creates understanding and dissolves anger.

For example, your supervisor at work has been particularly unreasonable, and if you can understand that her hostility is in reaction to her failed marriage, which has left her feeling alone and bitter, you will find it easier to tolerate her behaviour.

Next time you feel anger coming on, ask yourself, “How is he/she feeling? How would I feel if I were in his/her shoes?”

4. Practise meditation/deep relaxation. This lets go tension within the body. After regular practice, situations that would normally raise your ire will no longer trigger the usual responses.

5. Physical exercise. Nothing soothes an attack of rage as effectively as a brisk walk, run, swim, cycle, gym workout or digging the garden.

6. Talk to someone. You feel much better when you have talked to someone about a problem. It is wonderfully therapeutic, as if part of your load has been lifted.

It may also be helpful to talk to the person with whom you are angry, but be sure to avoid blaming or labelling, and state what you would like them to do next time.

 

HOW TO EASE ANXIETY AND WORRY

Anxiety and worry are the same thing – fear that something bad might happen. We all experience this at times.

However, it’s all rather irrational, because studies consistently show that over 90 percent of the things that we worry about never happen.

 

Here are psychologist Sarah’s six steps for managing anxiety:

 

1. Do something constructive. Taking action can often eliminate the problem, particularly if it is an unpleasant task that you are putting off. Whether it is going to the dentist, studying for an exam or ending a hopeless relationship, stop procrastinating and get it over and done with.

In situations where there is no easy solution, work on the next point:

 

2. Change the way you think. Try to become aware of whether your irrational thoughts are making you anxious. For instance, if you are going to a party where you are not likely to know anyone, you may feel anxious about standing alone all night looking like a gooseberry, or that people will think you have no friends or social skills.

To change such thoughts, focus on more rational thoughts such as, “I may not know anyone, but I might meet some interesting people”, and “Even if I did end up standing around by myself, who is going to notice or care anyway?”

In changing the way we think, affirmations can be very helpful. For example:

‘I remain calm and relaxed, I know I am safe.’

‘Whatever comes my way, I’ll handle it. I always do.’

 

3. Meditation/deep relaxation and deep breathing. As with anger, relaxation has the same defusing effect.

Deep breathing is most effective for dealing with acute anxiety. It can be an instant tension reliever. It reduces the level of arousal of the nervous system and helps you feel calmer and more in control.

 

4. Learn coping strategies. We can do things that distract us from the anxiety, such as breathing exercises, counting backwards from 100, listening to relaxing music, or repeating the affirmation, ‘There is nothing to fear, all is well.’ Reading, watching television or calling a friend are also very effective distractions.

 

5. Feel the fear and do it anyway. The reason we never outgrow many of our fears is that we tend to avoid the things we are afraid of. If you get anxious when you are alone, you probably make sure that you are never alone. If you have a strong fear of failure, you probably avoid taking risks.

The trouble with playing it safe is that you never learn to overcome your fears. The best way is to go right ahead and do it – over and over again. It sounds awful and may feel awful at first, but it gets easier every time. It will help initially if you visualise yourself confronting your fear.

 

6. Talk about it. Talking is therapeutic and whether it’s with your psychiatrist, psychologist, hairdresser, caring friend, partner, family member or work colleague, they can all make marvellous counsellors. All they need to do is give their time and allow you to talk.

If the anxiety has reached the point of causing you trauma, it would be wise to consult a counsellor or therapist. For guidance in this direction, you could start with the family practitioner or your community health centre.

Remembering that worry and anxiety are essentially the same (fear), let us look at an approach similar to that taken by Dale Carnegie.

Firstly, ask ourselves – what are we afraid of? If we are worried about job security, it is fear that we may lose our job, or not be able to get another one, or not be able to support the family? If we are worried about a relationship, we are fearing that something will go wrong with the relationship and it will end. If we are worried about impending change, it is fear of what that change may bring.

Having identified the underlying fear, the first question is, “What can I do about it?” As soon as you get cracking doing something about the problem, you will probably be too busy to think about worrying.

There are times when we say, “But what if such and such happens?” Ask ourselves, “If this does happen, can I handle it?” Most problems have many solutions, and after we have come up with at least one possible solution, the next question is, “Well, if I can handle it, what am I worrying about?!”

The bottom line is, “But what if the worst happens – can I handle it?” After contemplating this question, the answer will often be, “Yes, I think I could,” and we can again say to ourselves, “So what am I worrying about?”

If we look at things as they really are, we discover how ridiculous is much of the worrying we do. If in five years time we look back on the things that are worrying us now, in many instances we will wonder, “Well, what the heck was all the fuss about!”

Remember, most of the things that we worry about never happen!

As the popular book title says: ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff – it’s nearly all small stuff.’

 

HOW TO CALM THE MIND

There are many tried-and-true ways of relieving tension when body and mind are stressed. Here are some leading ones.

First and foremost, be aware of the value of acquiring the habit of living in the present moment. Don’t dwell on past mistakes: “If only I’d done such and such …..” Avoid worrying about what might happen in the future but probably won’t anyway. Keep focussed on the present moment, on the present situation of your life, and thereby avoid a huge amount of anxiety. This is what meditation and relaxation are all about.

 

MEDITATION AND RELAXATION

Meditation is the most effective solution to emotional stress. A five-year study found that people who practised Transcendental Meditation (repeating a mantra, morning and evening) had 87 percent less hospitalisation for heart disease, 55 percent less for cancer and 87 percent less for nervous system disorders. At the University of California, it was shown that meditation stimulates the immune system, increasing our resistance to illnesses ranging from minor ailments to cancer.

In a study of whether meditation can prolong life, 480 residents of retirement homes with an average age of 81 were divided into two groups. One group practised TM and the other group, the controls, undertook no meditation. In the meditation group, after three months, blood pressure had gone down and memory had improved. After three years, now with an average age of 84, all of the TM group were still alive, whereas in the group not meditating, five out of every eight had died. What an extraordinary difference for simply repeating a mantra for a total of 40 minutes a day!

When we practise meditation, there is a change in brain waves. Alpha waves increase in proportion to beta and delta waves. More alpha compared to beta waves means a more relaxed state, while more alpha compared to delta means heightened wakefulness. When we meditate, we are both more relaxed and more wakeful, a unique combination. Besides being deeply relaxing, alpha waves are associated with a feeling of wellbeing.

An immediate benefit of regular meditation is that we fall asleep quicker and sleep is deeper. Another benefit is reduced blood pressure as the blood vessels relax. During the meditation itself, there is rest that is deeper than sleep and achieved in a much shorter time.

“This causes our brain to work at peak efficiency,” says Paul Galbraith in Meditate Rejuvenate, “so we display more intelligence, creativity and feelings. It also makes us feel good, since deep rest relaxes the nervous system and recharges it with energy.” Many people say that after they began meditating, many ‘coincidences’ began to occur. But they may not be coincidences – it appears that what we think about or what we require begins to evolve automatically for us.

A two-minute meditation for busy people

This highly effective mind-calming technique can be practised almost anywhere, sitting, standing or lying down, although it is most effective in the sitting position.

Sit comfortably in a chair with feet flat on the floor, hands resting on your thighs, back straight and upright, and head balanced without strain. Close the eyes. (When the back is straight and upright, this is its most relaxed posture.)

Imagine your body is floating freely in space with various pressures acting upon it. Feel the floor pressing upwards on your feet. After 5 – 10 seconds, let the attention go to the buttocks and feel the pressure of the chair upwards on your body. Still be aware of the floor pressing on the feet.

Now become aware of your clothes contacting the skin all over your body. You had been oblivious to these pressures until now.

Next feel the breath going into the nose and down to the lungs. Be aware of the air going in and out.

Finally, become aware of sound. Without any straining to listen, note each sound you can hear.

Let your attention go back to the pressure of the floor on the feet, the chair on your seat, the clothes on your skin, the movement of breath and the sounds you can hear. Practise keeping all these in view together mentally and hold this state for two minutes.

If your mind wanders onto other things – as it will at first – don’t get worked up about it, simply bring your attention back to the exercise and continue.

Do this two-minute exercise two or three times a day, preferably on an empty stomach. Good times are on rising, just before retiring to bed and, if possible, at any time in between that you are under stress.

With practice, this technique will bring you quickly to a relaxed state and fully aware of the present moment, in which you are at peace with the world.

 

EYE RELAXATION TECHNIQUE

Involving just the eyes, this can also be done almost anywhere.

Sit comfortably and let the eyelids fall shut so that the little muscles surrounding the eyes relax. Repeat if necessary until there is full relaxation of the eyelid muscles. Progressively locate other little muscles around the eyes and let these go also. With practice, more and more eye muscles will be located and can be relaxed.

Because the eye muscles are triggers of tension throughout the body, you can expect to feel muscles everywhere letting go and relaxing.

 

PROGRESSIVE RELAXATION

By contracting and then relaxing many of the muscles in the body, you become more relaxed as a whole. Tense up and then relax each area of your body, progressing gradually from the feet to the facial muscles.

 

STRESS MANAGEMENT COURSES

These are widely available in the community, conducted by both community health centres and private organisations.

 

RELAXATION AUDIOTAPES OR CDs

There are many recorded relaxation sessions available. Their particular value is convenience: you can do the relaxation at home and at a time that is most effective, such as on retiring to bed. You will need a cassette player or CD player with automatic stop.

If you do go to sleep during a session, it will not be wasted. The subconscious mind will pick up the instructions to relax and the sleep will be deeper and better than otherwise.

 

EFT OR MERIDIAN TAPPING

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) are an emotional version of acupuncture (without needles), wherein certain meridian points are stimulated by something as simple as fingertip tapping, usually accompanied by key, spoken phrases. Astounding results are reported in all areas of stress, distress and life generally, even with weight and physical health issues.

EFT can be self-administered or, especially for deep and complex issues, guided by a trained practitioner. Information and instructions are available on several internet sites – search for Gary Craig, the founder of EFT, or any of the above names.

 

PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

Exercise is a stress breaker. It releases tensions and is excellent for defusing emotions such as anger and frustration. It’s also marvellous for enhancing mood.

As little as 20 minutes of brisk walking stimulates the release of endorphins from the brain, generating a sense of wellbeing and making you feel good for hours. Walking is the best exercise from a health point of view. You can double the benefit by walking and talking with a good friend for even better therapy ... and also protection against heart attack!

 

YOGA

The benefits are twofold – the exercises are designed to stretch and flex the whole body systematically, and they are usually done in a group, which enhances emotional security. If you can make the time, yoga is extremely effective.

 

DEEP BREATHING

Take nice gentle deep breaths, counting 8 seconds in and 8 seconds out. If you wish, sigh as you breathe out. Repeat two or three times. However, never do more than 12 – 15 deep breaths at a time or you risk hyperventilation.

 

HOBBIES

Absorbing interests are a buffer against stress and a great source of pleasure and relaxation. Find hobbies that you enjoy and make them a regular part of your life. Research shows that people who have absorbing interests are happier with life in general.

 

YOUR VISUAL SURROUNDINGS

A study published in Science magazine some years ago compared the effects of different surroundings on patients’ recovery from surgery. Two equal groups, each of 150 patients, had all had the same operation. During recovery, the members of one group convalesced in rooms with windows facing brick walls. The other group had windows overlooking a pretty garden. The differences were striking. Those viewing the pretty garden required less painkiller, had fewer complications and went home earlier than those looking at the brick wall. This illustrates how powerfully the immediate environment can lift our spirits and make us more resilient to stress.

 

LAUGHTER

Laughter is one of the best stress circuit-breakers we have. A good bout of laughter coaxes the body to release endorphins, which override pain and ease some of the physical effects of stress. Laughter also stimulates the immune system to release antibodies, increasing our defences against infectious diseases. Prolonged laughter lowers high blood pressure, thoroughly oxygenates the body and assists respiratory conditions. Even a big smile resets the brain for more positive emotions.

Why is it possible to ‘laugh till we cry’? Laughter and crying are controlled by the same area of the brain, and after we have been laughing for a few minutes, the crying spot may be stimulated. The tear glands come into play to keep our eyes moist and at the same time protect them with antibodies of the immune system.

Finding humour in a situation and laughing freely at it can be a powerful and effective tool for self-preservation, says comedian, Dennis H. Moore (New Vegetarian and Natural Health, Spring 2002, page 51). He gives the example of a fellow who was flying on a budget airline and the flight attendant asked, “Would you like some dinner, sir?” “What are my choices?” inquired the passenger. “Yes or no,” she replied.

Ten minutes of laughter can give two hours of pain-free sleep. This was the discovery of the most famous laughter beneficiary, Norman Cousins, who described his experiences in his book, Anatomy of an Illness.

During his illustrious career as long-time editor of the well known magazine, Saturday Review, Norman was diagnosed in 1964, at age 49, with ankylosing spondylitis (arthritis of the spine with vertebrae fused together). Almost completely paralysed and given only a few months to live, he checked out of the hospital and moved into a hotel room where he began taking high doses of vitamin C and providing himself with high doses of humour.

Slowly Norman’s limbs began to function again. As his condition steadily improved over the following months, he resumed his busy life and eventually returned to work full-time at Saturday Review. Supported by nutrition, Norman had laughed his way to an astonishing recovery.

So set about seeing the funny side of life whenever the opportunity presents itself. And regularly hire comedy videos/DVDs, go to funny movies, attend laughter classes or simply begin laughing at nothing at all – ‘fake it till you make it’.

 

LOOK ON THE POSITIVE SIDE

Even in the case of the serious skin cancer, melanoma, research has found that patients who are unrealistically optimistic about their prospects survive for twice as long as those who believe their illness is terminal. This finding adds to the mountain of evidence that the mind can have great power and influence.

The difference between positive and negative thinkers is that negative people focus on their problems and fears; while positive thinkers focus on the good things they have, see problems as challenges and look for the good in people.

Not only do positive people live positive lives, they attract more positivity to themselves. Negative people live negative lives and attract more negativity.

If you don’t like the terms positive and negative, substitute optimistic and pessimistic. Some people draw an almost philosophical distinction here. Find the interpretation that works for you.

In overcoming negativity, the key requirement is to stand guard over your mouth and never say anything negative about other people – or yourself! To feel good about yourself, give as much praise and appreciation to others as you can. Catch a person doing something right – instead of wrong – and praise them for it! What you give out, you get back.

This doesn’t mean that we should tolerate rudeness, or ignore injustice, crime, corruption, etc, or avoid being honest with ourselves. It could mean that in the workplace, for instance, we focus on giving ‘correction’ rather than criticism, explaining what is wrong and offering positive solutions. When our advice is followed, we need to remember to give praise.

Most importantly, remember to give yourself praise and accept the appreciation or acknowledgement of others. When receiving a compliment, don’t say, “But such and such”; simply say, “Thank you.”

 

BE PHILOSOPHICAL AND MAKE LIFE EASIER FOR YOURSELF!

Worry only about those things you can do something about, and do it, and forget all the rest! If there is something you can do about an issue, then do it. If there is absolutely nothing you can do, make a conscious decision to let that problem go. Never worry about things beyond your control. You only harm yourself without helping anybody.

 

TRY HERBS FOR STRESS

Some herbs are well known to support the immune system and thereby help the body deal with stress. Other herbs help in other ways. For their use, it might be wise to consult a professional herbalist. Here are a few examples.

Ginkgo biloba relieves poor circulation, increasing the blood supply to the brain and enhancing mental functions, including memory.

Echinacea boosts the immune system by increasing the production of infection-fighting T-cells.

Hawthorn supports the heart muscles and vascular system during times of stress.

Vervain strengthens the nervous system and is conducive to creating calm.

Valerian root promotes relaxation to relieve nervousness, nervous tension and occasional anxiety.

Passion flower is a non-drowsy, natural sedative that relieves occasional nervousness, anxiety and panic attacks.

 

With All The Above Techniques, Apply Persistence And Have Faith! The key to making these techniques bear fruit is persistence. Practise them every day, and, where appropriate, several times a day. A combination of techniques, especially if they include meditation, relaxation tapes or yoga, plus regular physical activity, has been found by many people to make a marvellous improvement to peace of mind. Use them consistently and have faith that they will work, and they will.

 

FAITH

Speaking of faith, if you have a philosophical or religious belief, use it as your partner in overcoming stress. A good deal of the above advice can be found in some form or other in the texts of the world’s great philosophers and religions.

 

THE FOOD CONNECTION

Lastly, let us keep in mind that almost every aspect of life is influenced to some degree by nutrition. As a foundation member of the Natural Health Society once wrote, “If you feed the body correctly, it works well and the thinking is naturally normal. And normal thinking is positive thinking.”

A final tip on the subject of stress and relaxation – remember that a smile will always trigger a mental reaction that makes you feel better. A smile increases your face value!