We tend to look to external things to help us care for our health.
We take vitamins.
And lift heavy weights.
We ingest medications…
But we don’t often consider what we can do internally.
What if I told you that YOU have more power than you think?
What if I told you that you can care for your well-being and improve your immune functioning bysimply… thinking… thoughts?
Specifically, thoughts of Gratitude.
Let Me Explain…
Gratitude is a strong emotion that brings you into the present.
The opposite emotion is stress, which tends to leave you worrying about things that happened in the past or will happen in the future.
When you are stressed, your body is wasting energy on this stress. Your body is working so hard to combat stress that it leaves no energy left for our immune system. Immune functioning goes down.
Instead of stressing, spending more time each day in gratitude, will help the energy in your body restore. And your immune functioning is greatly improved. It’s receiving more energy.
Gratitude also aids in the production of Immunoglobulin-A (IGA) in our bodies.
What is IGA?
It is an antibody blood protein that helps to fight off sickness!
Gratitude for the win!
Dr. Joe Dispenza, neurologist (who also happened to heal his spine with the power of gratitude) has this to say about the power of Gratitude:
“10 minutes of gratitude a day, 3 times a day, strengthens the immune system by 50%. The body begins to produce a chemical called Immunoglobulin A (IGA) – your body’s primary defense against bacteria and virus. It’s your Body’s natural flu shot.”
-Dr. Joe Dispenza
Did you hear that?!
Gratitude Strengthens Your Immune System By 50%!
You have preventative medicine right within you.
We must not ignore the power of our thoughts when it comes to our health.
Stress and other dangerous emotions weaken our immune system and can lead to sickness.
Do you understand and feel what others are feeling?
All of my life, I have been able to quite literally, FEEL the feelings of others.
When someone is going through a rough time, or having a bad day, in my head, I can instantly see all of the things that happened to them that led up to this feeling… I can feel exactly what they are feeling. I understand them.
And that feeling of empathy is magnified when it comes to my students..
Working at my little Elementary School, I’d met a lot of kiddos with some sad stories… some very tough starts to life.
They expressed their sadness through anger and tears.
And I felt it… deeply… So much that it would physically hurt.
I often wondered why I had been given this curse of being an empath…
I feel too much. Every heart break, every traumatic experience…
But over time (and with the help of a fabulous read that I’ll share below!), I shifted my perspective…
I realize now that being an empath is not a curse, it’s a gift.
Almost like having a super power!
To be able to completely feel and understand where someone is coming from. As much as it has the capacity to hurt… It can also heal…
You can truly BE there for that human being- fully present for that human being…
And being there, in complete understanding, can mean the world to someone.
So, if you are an empath, like me. And you hurt and feel the pain of others on a daily basis, just know that you have a gift!
The world needs your empathetic super power! Now, more than ever.
Trust me, I know it hurts. I know how hard it can be…
BUT, can you imagine what the world would be like without people like you and me?
I envision a world of isolation.. Beings who go through the motions each day.. Being who lack understanding and compassion.
And that is not a world I want to live in.
Pain is hard, but I’ve learned that I’d rather feel pain if it means also feeling joy.
Especially if it means that I can make a difference to one little someone. Anyone who might need someone to understand…
So… calling all you empaths out there…
You have a gift! And the world needs that gift!
P.S. Embrace the hell out of your superpower!
5 Powerful Tips to Take Care of Your Empathic Self:
As an empath, it is necessary to recharge yourself on the daily. We can easily be drained of our energy from day to day just through our emotions and feelings.
Here are some simple things you can do to recharge your battery:
Start the day off doing something for YOU!
It’s common in society for people to wake up at the last possible moment before rushing off to work or school. We get right into our days doing something for someone else, but this doesn’t allow us any time for ourselves. And at the end of a tiring day, it’s even harder for us to expend more energy on ourselves. We get left out. But when you jump start the day by doing something for you, it changes everything! And that something could really be anything, anything that fuels your soul… What do you enjoy doing? Journaling? Reading? Meditating? Yoga or some exercise? Whatever it is, make sure it is something you LOVE to do. Otherwise getting up a tad bit earlier will feel like a chore. Make it so you are EXCITED to get out of bed in the morning!
Get some good sleep (and probably a little more than you are currently getting)
This one is a given. Sleep is necessary for us to feel recharged. When we sleep, our brain and bodily systems have a chance to rest and restore themselves. The problem is, we don’t often give ourselves as much sleep as we need. Sleep looks different for everyone, so I’m not about to prescribe a ‘one-size-fits-all’ amount. But ideally, you want a consistent sleeping pattern and a nice deep sleep. Hitting REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is so beneficial for our health! This is when we do most of our dreaming. REM sleep positively affects our moods, memory and brain development. Treating yourself to some deep REM sleep is a wonderful way to replenish your empathic self!
Unplug from Technology or go on a Tech Fast.
This one partially goes hand in hand with #2… Unplugging from all technology (yes, I’m talking about ALL screens- your phone, your tablet, even your tv!) 2 hours before bed will help you get to sleep quicker and have a deeper sleep. Also, there is value in going on a technology (or social media) detox. Being dependent on our technology can cause enough stress on its own- constantly feeling the NEED to respond right away, or comparing ourselves to instagram models… Taking some time apart from technology is freeing! Try a day or 2, or a week – you decide what you’re comfortable with. Don’t let it become stressful though or you’d be missing the point. Even setting some better limits on the amounts and time you use technology. Like: not using your phone first thing after you wake up, or limiting the amount of time you spend on social media on your phone. Unplugging from our technology every once in a while – however you choose to do it – is a gift.
Know your limits… and HONOUR them!
As an empath, sometimes saying no can be a hard thing to do. When your boss asks you to stay at work and earn some overtime, or a friend asks you to attend an event.. We empathize with them and easily cave in. Even if we are already running on empty… Awareness of this pattern is important because once you can spot it, you can start to say ‘no’ when you are feeling depleted. It’ll take some time building the ‘no’ muscle though, so don’t be too hard on yourself if at first you don’t succeed! To ease into it, don’t say ‘no’ right off the bat. Try saying things like “I’m not too sure, can I check my calendar at home and get back to you later?” Then, when you’ve had more time to process the priority of what you are being asked to do, you can get back to them with a confident “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make it this time! I have a prior commitment.” Being aware of your limitations and saying ‘no’ are crucial for all human beings! It’s impossible to pour from an empty cup.
Read books on Empaths! Especially THIS book: The Empath Experience: What to do When you Feel Everything by Sydney Campos
This book played a huge role in shifting my perspective from the empathic curse to the empathic gift. A friend of mine at work recommended it to me (I’m all about book recommendations so if you have any, send em’ my way!) and I am forever grateful to her for it. It definitely changed the way I viewed myself as an Empath. It allowed me to see my strengths instead of my weaknesses. I’ve been better able to deal with tough situations and tragedies because of it. Not that it means I don’t get affected by sadness anymore, but my awareness allows me to shift my thinking to seeing the opportunity… the opportunity I have to help.. And to make a difference. And that’s all most of us ever want to do… is make a difference…
Remember: Self-care is not selfish, it is essential!
mindfulness, in essence, is our natural state of being; it is living in and embracing the present moment.
It releases us from all those swirling thoughts in our heads, and brings our focus into the now.
Don’t get me wrong, I know it is an extremely simple concept but it can seem complicated and hold more weight than it seems!
There are even a ton of benefits from incorporating mindfulness practices into your life. Some, you may haven’t even realized.
Yes, Mindfulness is bringing awareness to what is going on around you. And of course, focusing on the world around you brings you out of your own head and reduces anxious and fearful thoughts.
But what else does mindfulness do?
I want to introduce a new term to you (maybe you’ve heard this one before… it’s quite the mouthful!).. It may help you understand the power that lies behind mindfulness.
The study of the effect of the mind on health and resistance to disease
I heard about this term about 3 years ago in a book I read by Dr. Gabor Mate. If you don’t know who he is, Dr. Gabor Mate is a physician and internationally renowned speaker who specializes in addiction, childhood development, and the relationship of stress and illness to the body. His book, that I read, is titled: When the Body Says No – The Cost of Hidden Stress.
This term stood out in my mind. I mean, just look at the word! It took me a couple of tries to make sure I was getting the pronunciation just right.. But mostly, it gave a name to something that I had understood, but couldn’t quite explain.
Even though I had never heard the term psychoneuroimmunology before, now that I understood it, I realized I had already read a lot about it…
I love learning about the inner workings of us humans and our biology. In the past, I’d studied the placebo and nocebo effect a lot. As well as epigenetics (the study of how our behaviours and environment influence our gene expressions). Realizing, all of those were perfect examples of psychoneuroimmunology- where mindset and thoughts dictate reality.
I read many books with stories of instances where a patient’s mindset can have a direct impact on their healing process. And their likelihood to get ill again. Even instances where a particular mindset was the reason for illness in the first place.
Even within my classroom walls, I realized teaching my students to have a growth mindset was psychoneuroimmunology hard at work! Aiding kids to think in a positive mindset makes them more likely to reach their goals, AND creates happier and healthier kids!
I’d seen it all around me and learned all about it in my reading endeavors, but never really knew it had a name… until now! After naming it, I began to see patterns of psychoneuroimmunology all around me!
In my classroom, in the books I read, and even within my own family.
My sister is someone who has suffered from depression and chronic migraines almost all of her life. She has them quite regularly and was even put on a prescription medication to help her ease the pain of her migraines. It helped for a short while, but overtime, her body adjusted to the medication and she wasn’t getting results.
I started to pay more attention to her migraines. When she got them, and how often. I started to notice an interesting pattern… Her migraines always subsided when she had good days. And they flared up when she had bad days- bouts of depression or when something was causing her extra anxiety, or even when getting into arguments with someone she cared about.
It became very clear to me that her migraines were in direct correlation with her thoughts and overall mental health.
After studying psychoneuroimmunology and conducting some of my own experiments, I am even more confident that with the practice of mindfulness, we can positively influence our mental wellbeing and, in turn, achieve optimal health!
Mindfulness allows us to strengthen our mind by disassociating from our thoughts. It reminds us that, although we are full of thoughts, it doesn’t mean we ARE those thoughts. We simply have them and we can, just as simply, CHOOSE another thought. Mindfulness is about the power of choice. It brings about awareness- about ourselves, our lives and the people around us.
I see Mindfulness as exercise for the mind. Just as we would train our muscles by going to the gym, we can train our mental toughness through mindfulness.
And once again, we can benefit in so many ways from Mindfulness!
By using mindfulness to increase our mental resilience, it initiates a domino effect that translates to an abundance of other health and life improvements!
Reduced anxiety and depression
Improved immune system functioning (and other bodily systems!)
Boosts confidence, self-esteem and self-awareness
Better memory and cognitive abilities
Better physical health- increases strength and flexibility
Stronger and more positive relationships
Builds resilience – overcome adversity
Enhances mind/body connection
Increases focus and attention
Maybe you’re thinking.. Really? I can gain all of that just from the practice of Mindfulness?!
The answer is YES!
I believe that mindfulness is the key to health and wellness!
And just like the study of psychoneuroimmunology reminds us: Our thoughts and psychological processes have an impact on our overall health.
But don’t forget, mindfulness is not a ‘one and done’ activity. Mindfulness is for life. It is about practice and getting those reps of mastery in. Building a solid foundation of mindfulness to live a mindful life.
It includes building a daily practice that fits into your life, that fits your schedule.
Start off slowly, and eventually, you’ll be practicing mindfulness throughout your day, without even thinking about it!
Before you know it, you’ll be a mindfulness ninja!
Well… I can’t give you one simple answer. Because the practice of mindfulness is simple and complex all at once – we’ll save the complex stuff for another post!
Mindfulness is our natural state of being…
…before the world was filled with constant distractions and everyday stressors.
When we focus on the present moment and are mindful in everything we do, it’s like we are connecting back to our roots. Our natural state of being.
Back in the times of our ancestors, our ‘fight/flight/freeze’ mode of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) was only activated when we were in serious danger. Dangers like being hunted or killed by larger animals.
And even then, when our ‘fight/flight/freeze’ (called our sympathetic nervous system) was triggered, we were still PRESENT. Presently focusing on removing ourselves from danger.Once the danger was removed, we were easily able to switch modes back into our parasympathetic nervous system, where our bodies and minds could ‘rest and relax.’
Nowadays, these stress triggers are everywhere. We stress all day long. About our kids, students or families. About our jobs or the pay we get. We stress over not making it to work on time while sitting in rush hour traffic. Or about how we will do on an exam.
And now with COVID we have additional stressors! We stress about sickness and the health of our friends and family. We stress about when the next shut down might happen. Or if we’ll end up losing our jobs. Or worse.. Our lives or the lives of someone we love.
Sometimes, we’ll even stress about all the bad things that could possibly happen and things that haven’t even come true yet (and most likely, won’t ever come true).
In this day and age, stressors are EVERYWHERE.
But there are 2 crucial differences about these stressors than what we’ve experienced in the past:
Our sympathetic nervous system is basically running on overdrive! When we are regularly stressed, our body is living in this constant state of fight, flight or freeze. There is no time for our parasympathetic system to kick in (our rest & relax mode) and so our body is unable to conserve the energy it needs to function properly. Our body systems are working hard to get us out of this perceived danger, which never really seems to go away… This can have serious detrimental effects for us in the long term.
The majority of these new stress triggers aren’t even happening in the present moment! They are things that are going on in our heads!! Like I said earlier, we give too much attention to the things that have not yet happened, and may not even happen. Yes, some of the things we think about are important to consider in terms of planning our lives, however, when we are non-stop thinking about our stress, it completely takes us out of the present moment. We are stuck living within our heads. Not mindful at all. And not our natural state of being.
Now, the wonderful thing about understanding all of this is that it makes us aware. Aware of the problem, so we can also be aware of the solution.
And in returning back to our natural state of being- Living and breathing mindfulness, we can reverse some of the long term effects that stress and anxiety can have on our minds and our bodies. We can extend our lives and improve our health!
Of course, it’s never too late to practice mindfulness!
But, I am an avid promoter of the “get ‘em started young” philosophy!
Why, you might ask?
Well, for one, kids are SPONGES! They are the best kind of learners because they hold onto new information quite easily. Especially if that information is engaging! And even more so, if they see the adults in their lives MODEL it well!
And second, even though it’s never too late for anyone to practice mindfulness and improve their health, when we teach mindfulness to kids, we are better able to set them up for a successful path in life. We can teach them strategies BEFORE stressful events happen and they will better know how to deal with them when the time comes.
Ever heard of the mastery rule of 10,000 hours?
Well, Michael Gladwell speaks about it in his book “Outliers.” He states that it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve a level of mastery in a particular skill.
In the case of mindfulness, bringing awareness and teaching this skill to kids at a younger age, allows them to achieve this level of mastery even before they become adults.
This is why I am so ‘gung-ho’ about practicing mindfulness to kids. By practicing mindfulness throughout their younger years, living in the present moment becomes a natural part of their subconscious. They develop mastery level to this skill before their teen and adult years – some of the most stressful years of their lives.
Being a master at mindfulness before they get into those stressful years, will allow them to utilize strategies for dealing with stress in the future.
We are setting them up for success in a terribly stressful world.
Imagine a world where we can all get out of our own heads and into the present moment?
A world where we don’t have to be constantly living in fight, flight or freeze.
I believe THAT world begins with our kids.
Stay tuned for more posts on how mindfulness works and how it improves, not only our thoughts, but our overall health!