Polishing your emotional compass

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A LIFETIME of eating the right food, keeping fit, not smoking, not drinking, avoiding junk food – surely that’s the recipe for good health, right? It’s certainly part of it, but there are so many factors at play when it comes to maintaining good health, it really isn’t practical to pin it all on one or two, as though they were more important than all the others.

When you consider the fact that the word ‘healing’ comes from ‘whole’, this might give you a clue to understanding that optimum health is reliant on having a well rounded approach to taking care of ourselves. Consider just some of these factors:

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• Having a strong social network

• Having a resilient mindset

• Being able to acknowledge both the good and the bad

• Being able to express your emotions in a healthy way

• Having supportive religious or spiritual beliefs

• Having a sense of purpose

While it is relatively simple to say you need X grams of this vitamin or Y glasses a water a day, the factors above, which are just as crucial to good health, are far harder to quantify and certainly can’t be measured as easily under a microscope. But time and again, both anecdotally and in research projects the have tried to evaluate their significance, the far-reaching elements listed above have played important roles.

If you look at the list, they are all components that are taken care of naturally in a strong, cohesive community. In order to function well, there needs to be a balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the whole. There needs to be an awareness of the good distribution of resources, so that everyone can be at their best. There’s an assigning of roles, playing to the strengths of each individual. There’s wisdom to be gained from listening to the opinions of others, younger and older, based on their life experiences.

Believe it or not, each one of us is a microcosm of this merry dance. Apart from the very intricate interplay between our microbiome and ourselves, there is constant communication going on between our cells, organs and systems, between our brain and nervous system, and with the master conductor that is our endocrine system. This system is incredibly sensitive at picking up the emotional temperature of what is going on around us. None of us evolved in isolation, so we are still geared to be very attuned to cues in our environment, be they good or bad.

If you learned not to express concern when someone in a position of authority threatened the status quo, even though you knew on a visceral level something was seriously out of kilter, this sends a ripple of shockwaves through your system. Your body’s emotional compass, which is designed to protect you and help you learn how to deal appropriately in each situation, either ceases to pipe up at all or pipes up in inappropriate ways. If you find your cells start attacking themselves for no apparent reason, for example, it’s worth taking a deeper look.

The chemical cocktail that your cells are bathed in is a major predictor for good or poor health, as well as the ability to recover, if you do encounter a health crisis. We’ve all met people who can smoke right through their lives and never get sick even though, in theory, the chemicals they are taking into their lungs ‘should’ make them sick. Equally, you’ve probably also met the person who keeps physically active, but puts their own needs after everyone else, taking in large doses of resentment with each meal they do find time to eat. Or perhaps you’re working in a job you hate, but suffer on because you have to provide for your family and your identity is completely wrapped up in your ability to do that.

As you can see, it’s not as straightfoward as A+B=C. A little bit of mindfulness can go a long way toward unravelling the puzzle. By living mindfully, you may start to notice those cues coming from inside you, whether it’s a tightness in your tummy, a headache bubbling up, knotted up fists or a jaw that’s clamped shut. Once you start to notice them, you might see a pattern, that the same triggers are activating them. While you might not be able to change all of those triggers, perhaps you can change your stance on them. That alone might help you liberate energy to sleep better, have more stamina, deal with infections and generally have more resilient good health than you would have thought possible.