We hear how we should try to be positive, even in the most terrible situations. Still, we might not particularly know why it is worth the effort. According to Mayo Clinic, some effects of positive thinking include increased life span, lower rate of depression, greater resistance to the common cold and better cardiovascular health. I thought it was really interesting how while we believe positive thinking might help as a coping mechanism, it can also have a positive impact on our physical health. I wanted to explore the relationship between mental and physical health, and how the secret to a healthier life may begin with something as simple and as complicated as our thoughts.
According to an article written by Karen Lawson, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, “negative attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can create chronic stress, which upsets the body’s hormone balances, depletes the brain chemicals required for happiness, and damages the immune system.” When I took my Intro to Psychology class, I remember reading my textbook “Psychology in Action,” which included a section about stress. I was very surprised to learn that stress puts us at higher risk for coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even cancer, given that stress can have a suppressing effect on our immune system. Today, being stressed seems like the norm that makes relaxation a luxury. In fact, according to research done by the American Psychological Association, 77% of people in the U.S. regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, such as fatigue, which 32% of those with physical symptoms reported feeling.
Stress among students
For this piece, I interviewed some students from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to know how stress impacts students in our community. Three out of the four interviewees listed that on a scale of one to ten, they would rate their stress level in the past week as a seven. All of them listed school and money in their top three stressors. When asked if they noticed any physical reactions to stress, marine biology student Tyler Stynes listed things such as irritability and fatigue, while elementary education student Grace DiLeo mentioned increased sensitivity and crying.
How we react to things can make us ill. The moment we realize this is a chain reaction that begins in our minds, we can stop it. No wonder things such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness have been gradually becoming more popular in recent years. In fact, according to a Forbes article, “in 2012, less than 10% of U.S. adults reported practicing yoga, whereas, in 2017, over 14% did. But for meditation, the rise jump was larger, at over threefold, from 4% to 14% over the same years.”
We live in a society that constantly screams “go!” and sometimes we can forget to stop and take in our surroundings. We are indoctrinated with what we should be doing, like how we should be making a certain amount of money and measuring up to something. Due to this, it is easy to forget that life is meant to be enjoyed.
I asked some students about their methods for coping with stress. Responses included exercising, trying to not let it get to you as much, listening to music - even crying. All of these coping mechanisms aid in releasing emotions. Sadly, living completely stress-free is most likely unattainable in such a fast-paced society, but being more mindful about how we spend our time and how some things make us feel will probably result in a significant difference in our wellbeing.
Of course, it is all easier said than done. We are immersed in an ever-changing and moving world, so it is natural to get caught up and forget to breathe. Simple ways to approach this include creating a routine. Try to take a few minutes to meditate, breathe deeply and become aware of your surroundings. Write down your feelings, do something out of pure enjoyment, turn off your phone when you’re with someone else - do what you can to be in the present moment. The little things add up, even if it doesn’t look like it at first. Remember you can’t control everything, and that’s okay.
We deserve a full life, and worries as small (in the bigger picture of things) as schoolwork, someone’s opinion of us or anything else, do not deserve to take such a big toll on our quality of life. So ask yourself: can I do something about this? If yes, then do it. If not, we should do our best to process it and then let it go. It is not easy, but it can be done. It all starts when you decide it does. As J.K. Rowling once wrote, “My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”