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Healthy Thinking

It has been documented that thoughts and emotions have a powerful influence over our physical health.

There was an interesting study conducted at UCLA in the early 1990s where 14 professional actors were recruited to study the effects of emotion on the immune system. During the study, the actors were told which mood state they would be experiencing. 

They then read the appropriate scenario, which was about 100 words long, and were told to create and experience a realistic mood by developing the scene and verbally and behaviorally 
acting it out while seated. Actors were encouraged to use their own personal memories to intensify the experience. Once the actors were in a particular emotional state, the researchers drew blood to measure any physical changes that may be associated with particular emotional states. What they found surprised everyone. Simply by shifting from one emotional state to another, the actors could stimulate or suppress their immune function. Subsequent studies have measured all kinds of physical changes that result from emotional states, such as changes in hormone levels, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, even the ability to heal properly. In fact, the mind-body connection is so strong that an entire field of science has emerged called psychoneuroimmunology.

More and more scientific studies are published on a daily basis proving the idea that thoughts and emotions have a powerful influence over our physical health. This is one of the reasons why people are much more likely to get sick during job changes, holidays and other stressful times; or why people who are depressed have a much higher risk of developing cancer.How can emotions affect our immunity or resistance to disease? Research shows that the brain can release hormones and other chemicals that affect white blood cells and other parts of the immune system. Though the chemicals also have other functions, they are a link between our thoughts and our ability to resist diseases.For example, when people react to stresses with fear, their brains send a "danger" message to the body. Hormones are released to raise blood pressure and prepare muscles for quick action, as if to fight or flee from danger. The stress hormones also depress the disease-resistance system, and over time, can damage the brain, heart and digestive tract.Thoughts can cause physical abnormalities such as ulcers, indigestion, nervousness and high blood pressure. Thoughts can also depress the immune system, which leads to a wide variety of diseases. Whether a person experiences poor health, and how soon, depends on that person's heredity, environment, diet and behavior.

An Australian study in the late 1970s showed that when one spouse dies, the other experiences a weakened immune system. This helps explain why grieving spouses have more diseases and a higher death rate than others of similar age.Other studies have shown that heart patients who are depressed have more heart problems than happier heart patients; depression was a better predictor of problems than physical measurements were.

Cancer is more common in people who suffer a major emotional loss, repress anger and feel helpless. Cancer patients who express their emotions rather than denying them seem to recover more often. The link between emotion and cancer is so strong that some psychological tests are better predictors of cancer than physical exams are.This does not mean that everyone who has cancer or some other disease has simply thought it upon himself. There are many factors involved in disease; even the best attitude is not going to prevent ill effects from genetic malfunctions and some chemical and biological hazards.A new study shows physical proof how one of those aspects - a strong and happy marriage - can be a boon to your health. According to the study, physical wounds take much longer to heal in marriages marred by hostility and conflict than those in which couples build a more pleasurable home life.

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The simple act of deciding to be happier and focus on the positive will improve your health.

Just as negative emotions can weaken the body's resistance level, positive emotions can give us strength, or at least allow our bodies to function normally. Therefore, the simple act of deciding to be happier and focus on the positive will improve your health. In fact, the phenomenon of your thoughts affecting your physical health is so strong that all medical studies have to be designed with it in mind. Researchers call this 'the placebo effect.'

Many people believe that the term 'placebo effect' means that the effect is only imagined - that it is not real. But this couldn't be further from the truth. Medical studies have to include a control group - people who receive placebos instead of the medicine being studied - because the simple act of people making the decision to take action to improve their health leads to measurable physical improvement in their condition. To determine the effects of  a particular medicine, researchers have to measure the change in the group who underwent therapy and subtract out the amount of change seen in the placebo group. Otherwise, there is no way to know whether a particular treatment was beneficial or whether it was merely the change in attitude in the study subjects that made the difference. In many instances, the placebo effect turns out to be stronger than the treatment itself! The point is that if you want to have a healthy body you also have to have healthy thoughts and emotions. Just as it is important to avoid toxic chemicals, it is also necessary to avoid toxic thoughts to enjoy optimal health.

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Relaxation is an effective way to  offset the effects that stress has on your body.

Today, we are more stressed-out than ever before. The stress of careers, deadlines, conflicts, and demands on our time and money, take a huge toll on our health and well-being. Just as a chain tends to break at its weakest link, we seem to exhibit stress and strain in the weakest areas of our bodies. Stress basically comes in three forms of overload. We encounter physical stress, emotional stress, and chemical stress. In fact, we are subject to all three stress factors at the same time. When we overload, it always manifests in symptoms at our weakest link. Stress can provoke ulcers,  migraines, low back pain, insomnia, and other illnesses.

It is impossible to remove all of the stress from life, however, safe all-natural and effective stress reduction strategies can  help offset the bad effects that stress produces. This  strengthens the function of the nervous and immune systems at the same time, so you can make stress your friend, not your enemy. After decades of research, it is clear that the negative effects associated with stress are real. Although you may not always be able to avoid stressful situations, there are a number of things that you can do to reduce the effect that stress has on your body. The first is relaxation. Learning to relax doesn't have to be difficult. Here are some simple techniques to help get you started on your way to tranquility.

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Relaxed breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, can help you relieve stress.

Have you ever noticed how you breathe when you're stressed? Stress typically causes rapid, shallow breathing. This kind of breathing sustains other aspects of the stress response, such as rapid heart rate and perspiration. If you can get control of your breathing, the spiraling effects of acute stress will automatically become less intense. Relaxed breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, can help you relieve stress.

Practice this basic technique twice daily, and whenever you feel tense. Follow these steps:

  • Inhale. With your mouth closed and your shoulders relaxed, inhale as slowly and deeply as you can to the count of six. As you do that, push your stomach out. Allow the air to fill your diaphragm.
  • Hold. Keep the air in your lungs as you slowly count to four.
  • Exhale. Release the air through your mouth as you slowly count to six.
  • Repeat. Complete the inhale-hold-exhale cycle three to five times.
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Perform progressive muscle relaxation daily to reduce the tension in your muscles.

The goal of progressive muscle relaxation is to reduce the tension in your muscles. First, find a quiet place where you'll be free from interruption. Loosen tight clothing and remove your glasses or contacts if you'd like. Tense each muscle group for at least five seconds and then relax for at least 30 seconds. Repeat before moving to the next muscle group.

  • Your face. Squint your eyes tightly, wrinkle your nose and mouth, Clench your teeth, and pull back the corners of your mouth toward your ears, feeling the tension in the center of your face. Relax. Repeat.
  • Neck. Gently touch your chin to your chest. Feel the pull in the back of your neck as it spreads into your head. Relax. Repeat.
  • Shoulders. Pull your shoulders up toward your ears, feeling the tension in your shoulders, head, neck and upper back. Relax. Repeat.
  • Upper arms. Pull your arms back and press your elbows in toward the sides of your body. Try not to tense your lower arms. Feel the tension in your arms, shoulders and into your back. Relax. Repeat.
  • Hands and forearms. Make a tight fist and pull up your wrists. Feel the tension in your hands, knuckles and lower arms. Relax. Repeat.
  • Chest, shoulders and upper back. Pull your shoulders back as if you're trying to make your shoulder blades touch. Relax. Repeat.
  • Stomach. Pull your stomach in toward your spine, tightening your abdominal muscles. Relax. Repeat.
  • Upper legs. Squeeze your knees together and lift your legs up off the chair or from wherever you're relaxing. Feel the tension in your thighs. Relax. Repeat.
  • Lower legs. Raise your feet toward the ceiling while flexing them toward your body. Feel the tension in your calves. Relax. Repeat.
  • Feet. Turn your feet inward and curl your toes up and out. Relax. Repeat.

Perform progressive muscle relaxation at least once or twice each day to get the maximum benefit. Each session should last about ten minutes.

 Another way of relaxing your muscles is through massage. Massage is a system of pressing and kneading different soft tissues in the body (muscles, tendons, and ligaments). Massage offers a variety of health benefits: pain relief, relaxation, improved muscle tone, stimulation of circulatory and lymphatic systems, and more efficient elimination of waste throughout the body. Although a single massage will reduce fatigue, relax you, and provide mild stress relief, the effects of massage are cumulative. A course of massage treatments will allow you to reap the most benefits. Ultimately, massage can rejuvenate you physically, mentally, and spiritually. Massage rates can vary between $50 and $125 per hour, depending on the massage therapist and the location where you receive your massage. For example, you will pay more for someone to travel to your home to provide massage therapy. Fortunately, many chiropractic centers offer massage therapy as part of their services.

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To rest your mind and take a visual journey to a peaceful place, consider listening to soothing sounds.

If you have about ten minutes and a quiet room, you can take a mental vacation almost anytime with soothing sounds. Consider music such as relaxation CDs or tapes to help you unwind. To rest your mind and take a visual journey to a peaceful place, consider the following:

  • Spoken word. These CDs use spoken suggestions to guide your meditation, educate you on stress reduction or take you on an imaginary visual journey to a peaceful place.
  • Soothing music or nature sounds. Music has the power to affect your thoughts and feelings. Soft, soothing music can help you relax and lower your stress level.

Try several CDs to find which works best for you, since no one CD works for everyone.  When possible, listen to the soothing music and spoken word samples in the record store to help you decide. Also, consider asking your friends or a trusted professional for relaxing music recommendations.