Living a life of joy and flow means averting obstacles to your health and well-being like recognizing how what you focus on can make you sick.
I did a Facebook live on this which you can watch here. : ) Please continue to read the article because there are good articles linked from this post that back up much of what I talk about as well as 7 more tips to focus on stay well.
Let me start off with a small confession, if unchecked, I can lean towards being a hypochondriac, which I now understand is called having an illness anxiety disorder.
As they say, fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. My mother complained repeatedly about a new malady of some kind. On almost every visit to the doctor she asked this question, “What’s wrong with me?”
In spite of her share of health issues: back surgery for a slipped disc, hysterectomy for tumors (benign, thank goodness), congestive heart failure, diabetes, rheumatic fever, need I go on(?), she remained vibrant with a quick mind and her wicked sense of British humor intact until the age of 96.
It’s hard not to succumb to having an illness anxiety disorder, or OCD, or PTSD during the Coronavirus outbreak. Obsessive hand washing and disinfecting everything constantly, the breaking news and death tolls shattering our peace. How can we not be affected?
I’ll share my momentary setback later. But I want to help you to understand how what you focus on can make you sick so that you can focus on what can make you well.
Focusing on the News Can Make You Sick
First off, let me assure you that you are not alone in your anxiety. This article called Headline Stress Disorder: When Breaking News Is Bad for Your Health, was written in July of 2018. Already, 7 out of 10 Americans felt worn out and stressed from the news.
This was prior to the worldwide pandemic where the breaking news is focused on the horror of the devastating effects of COVID-19.
Mary McNaughton-Cassill, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio who has studied the effects of the media on people’s mental health after such events as 9/11 and major hurricanes, said, “The human brain is not made to process as much information as we’re getting now. We like to categorize, we like answers.”
There were no solid answers with COVID-19 leaving us with little comfort and lots of stress. Stress weakens the immune system, which can make you vulnerable to disease.
Focusing on Disease Can Make You Sick
There is a medical condition called Medical School Syndrome or Medical Student’s Disease.
It’s estimated that 70-80 percent of students develop vivid delusions of having whatever frightening disease they are studying for the week.
So, it should come as no surprise that we can easily imagine every ache, pain, sneeze, cough, or symptom to be that we’ve contracted COVID-19 because of our non-stop exposure to the pandemic.
My Focus Almost Led to a Full-Blown Panic Attack
During the stay at home order I’d had an allergic reaction to something I ate. My face felt hot. I had a rash break out on my face, arms and thighs. Panic began to set in because I wondered if this was the start of the Coronavirus, even though I knew that it had to be an allergic reaction and a rash was not a symptom.
My heart was pounding, and my breathing was shallow (a big-time symptom of the virus). I was scared! It took all I had to calm myself down.
I’ve been practicing meditation for twelve years and consider myself to be a calm person, but I put my headphones on and played the Be Still meditation I had created just to breathe! My breathing returned to normal. My heart stopped pounding as I calmed down. That’s all it was, an allergic reaction. But I had allowed all the news watching to cause stress and panic and affect my well-being.
Why What You Focus on Can Make You Sick
Our brains are wired to sense danger to protect us. I’m sure that you’ve heard of this as the fight-or-flight response.
When presented with danger we will either fight or we will run from it. Unfortunately, our brains treat any threats as danger, releasing hormones into our bodies which, long-term, can cause heart disease, depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, weight gain or obesity.
Traffic jams, pressures at work, relationship issues, and those breaking news headlines can all be considered threats.
What to Focus On to Stay Well
I’m reminded of the Henny Youngman joke: Patient, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” Doctor, “Then don’t do that!”
So, we’ve looked at how what you focus on can make you sick, now let’s focus on the good stuff in what to focus on to make you well.
When you find yourself searching online, watching the news constantly, or feeding your mind with information that causes you to feel alarmed, as the joke says, don’t do that!
You can’t control what happens outside of you. You can control how you respond from within. When you take the time to be still and listen to your mind, body, and spirit, you know what is best for you.
12 Tips to Focus on to Stay Well
These tips have an added bonus in that they will not only calm you but will strengthen your immune system. A healthy immune system fights off disease:
- Limit your exposure to the news. My mantra is: I want to be informed, not inundated.
- Don’t wake up connecting with the news and connect with the news before you go to bed. Otherwise, you will set yourself up to enter the day with stress and end the day with stress
- Exercise – Exercise releases endorphins, which are good hormones. Go for a walk, run, play a sport. Your body was created to move
- Read a good book – not one filled with violence or related pandemics
- Watch an uplifting program or movie – again, not filled with violence or related to pandemics
- Practice relaxation techniques – Listen to restful music, do yoga, do deep abdominal breathing
- Pray. Lean on your faith during these times. Ask God to calm your mind and spirit
- Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night
- Eat well, limiting fast food and fried food and choosing lean protein, fresh vegetables and fruit
- Hydrate with water throughout the day
- Connect with a friend or loved one – isolation is not good. We were created for community and connection
- Practice meditation – especially meditation focusing on your breath. (The Be Still meditation (in CD or digital download) was created using deep abdominal breathing with soothing music using Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God. You can use three of the tips at one time.) : )
Change your focus from what will make you sick to what will make you well. These tips will serve you not only during a crisis but always. What are you doing to stay well? Or do you have a challenge? Share in the comment section below.