Health Sustaining Habits
A category of primarily physical rather than psychological coping techniques. Such habits include the use of medications, diet, relaxation, and physical exercise, as well as pace. Dr. Andrew Weil has a great book for improving your daily habits called Eight Weeks To Optimal Health. Check it out!
MEDICATION The prescription of medications probably represents most physicians' sole involvement with their patients' coping processes. Medications with pharmaceutical properties helpful for the disease in question are of obvious benefit, but an overreliance on medications can prevent physicians from attaining a deeper and more meaningful understanding of their patients. Additionally, much has been made of the importance of the placebo effect. When both the physician's and the patient's expectations of success are high those suggestive effects can enhance the overall effectiveness of the medication.
Psychiatrists in wartime learned of the dramatic relief that short-acting hypnotics and anxiolytics can provide to soldiers suffering acute battle stress. The drugs are generally given over the first two to three days following the battle. After that time the soldier usually recovers sufficiently to return to his unit. The same approach has been used successfully for severely disturbed survivors of civilian disasters.
With regard to the present-day emphasis on homeopathic compounds, herbs, and supplements, the wisdom of such preparations in helping persons cope with their life stresses is open to debate. Still, many patients seek out such alternative medicine practitioners, seldom advising their Western-trained doctors that they do so.
DIET It appears incontrovertible that the modern Western man and woman eat far more protein, fat, salt, and sugar and far fewer vegetables and less fiber than marked the nutritious diet of their Paleolithic ancestors. That relatively recent shift in proportions of food groups has been suggested as being partly responsible for many modern illnesses, including dental caries, heart disease, cancers, and most diseases of the colon. Further, much food eaten today may have been preserved with various chemicals that may be harmful.
In general, diets advised for coping with illness are primarily vegetarian with an abundance of fresh foods. Vitamin supplements are frequently recommended. The possible anticancer effects of beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and supplemental potassium, for example, have been shown in several studies. For coronary atherosclerosis it appears prudent to limit dietary fat to around 20 percent of caloric intake. Of interest is that psychological feelings of failure and depression result in a significant elevation of serum cholesterol, and those persons with such feelings who eat a high-fat diet may well be putting themselves doubly at risk.
RELAXATION Progressive muscle relaxation is a central part of most courses on stress reduction. Such exercises appear to be especially effective in helping tense and anxious persons fall asleep. The fairly extensive literature on the subject reports a wide assortment of physical health improvements resulting from relaxation, with treatment often carried out in laboratories equipped with biofeedback instrumentation.
EXERCISE Another large number of studies indicate that positive physical and psychological effects can be achieved through physical fitness. The lowering of resting heart rate and blood pressure afforded by aerobic training allows a person to tolerate life stress situations with lower cardiovascular arousal. Aerobic fitness also has been associated with an increased sense of well-being and a salubrious effect on depressed mood.
PACE Pace is often overlooked as an important health-sustaining habit, but its beneficial aspects are well known to the endurance athlete. A mountain climber, for instance, thinking only of conquering a peak can become transfixed on that goal during the ascent. With frequent glances at the peak, it appears to recede rather than to come closer. Only when the goal has been reached is the climb deemed a success. More important, if the weather suddenly changes, the poorly paced climber may not have sufficient reserve energy to meet the new demand. Contrast a mountaineer who has learned to use pace. That climber may spend much of the ascent looking at rock formations, trees, flowers, and the sky, with only infrequent glances toward the peak to monitor progress in the climb. Reaching the peak is only one of a number of pleasant experiences. If unexpected demands suddenly arise, the climber has adequate reserve energy to accommodate them.