When looking at the whole picture of your health, what you think and how you feel does matter. You already know that nutrition, physical activity, and sleep are important factors. Also consider that stress can suppress immune function.
What scientists call the biopsychosocial model (BPS) of health is the scientific way to refer to what is popularly known as the mind-body connection. That the physical, psychological, and social factors all contribute to health is clear. Some think this idea doesn’t go far enough, that interconnections of mind and body can’t sensibly be separated. Others quibble about whether it fits the definition of a scientific model. In the meantime, studies accumulate to give us evidence of how the connection works.
Stress is inevitable. Everyone will face stress. Our bodies respond through hormones. Ideally, we process the stress and return to our state of normal. When the stress is chronic, however, our bodies suffer and can’t repair as easily or quickly. Stress can lead to and other digestive issues, headaches, high blood pressure, and even stroke. Stress can prolong healing, delay immune response, and impair learning. Simply, stress aggravates disease. Chronic stress has multiple negative effects on your health.
Particularly interesting is scientific investigation of how stress effects the immune system. We produce cortisol in response to stress, which is good for the short term fight-or-flight response. When the stress continues and the cortisol continues, it interferes with a cell’s production of the protein telomerase, which slows down the cell’s ticking clock. You cells wear down more quickly under stress.
The Key to Health Is in Your Response
The life of a parent is stressful. So, what do you do to keep stress under control and keep yourself and your family members healthy?
Build resilience. Resilience isn’t necessarily inborn. You can learn to be resilient. You can learn to meet stress and work through it. You can develop habits of stress release. Your habits might be as simple as relaxation and massage. You could schedule a class for yoga or tai chi and not let other obligations interfere with that schedule. After a traumatic event, sometimes we need clinical help to build that resilience. Therapy or support groups can help us. Art, dance, and music therapy can also help. Try a range of activities and adopt whatever mind-body exercises help you manage the stress in your life.
I’ve been doing yoga since the beginning of the year, and I do notice the effect. My favorite part of the yoga sessions is the relaxation with focus on the breath. For me, conscious breathing and stretching helps me to lower my stress levels and increase my alertness.
Remember, too, that children feel stress, and the reasons might not be obvious to you. Talk to your children about how they feel to help them learn to articulate what is going on with them. Help them develop tools to deal with their inevitable stress. Yoga, for example, can reduce the stress children face and increase their focus. My children also like guided imagery relaxation. They have learned to use this imagery for themselves if they can’t sleep or if they just need some time alone. The tools might seem very simple, but that is probably all most children will need.
Whatever method you use to meet and get through stress is not so important as recognizing and acting when you need to use your tools to return mind and body to your norm. Nutrition, sleep, activity, and calm all contribute to your family’s health. Health has a web of factors, including the mind-body connection.