Do You Want to Achieve Optimal Self-Improvement? It Is A Matter of Looking In, Not Out: Part B

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Part A of this article aimed to introduced to you to the idea that defining your health goes deeper than simply what the eye can see and the blood pressure cuff can read. It is multi-faceted and comprised of your physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual well-being. It is the intertwining of them all and the effect one has on another that will define your health. They are not meant to stand individually. To strive for constant self-improvement in each area will build a person up, however, striving for perfection will beat one down. Part A defined physical health and the struggle created in defining and evaluating it. Hopefully you were left with a clear picture of how you can start to improve the physical side in a truly healthy way.

The mental and emotional side to your health is a little more complex.  Emotions are part of life – the good, the bad, and the ugly. They are automatic and reactive.  It is quite impossible to tell yourself to not have a certain emotion.  It is your natural reaction to the environment, to people, to situations. Emotions make us human, they allow us to relate to one another, and they allow us to experience life and grow from it.  This growth can foster our health when we learn to recognize and learn from emotions both healthy and not, however, when we do not allow ourselves to experience these emotions, much less learn the reason for them, it can be to our detriment.  The two main driving forces to emotions are love and fear, and each will produce different chemical reactions with in your body.  Desire, acceptance, pleasure, joy, and peace are some examples of love emotions. Jealousy, anger, bitterness, and rejection are a few examples of fear emotions. Not only do the chemicals they produce positively or negatively affect our physical health, but also the frequency in which we experience them can create a pattern or a habit that clouds our future way of thinking.

Without getting too technical, we will label the hormones released by anxiety, stress, and pressure, the “fear hormones”. These hormones released sporadically or only during temporary situations in reality can be quite helpful. They are the hormones that actually allow your blood pressure to rise and sugar to become available to working muscles in order for your brain and your body to physically act upon the immediate situation in a positive way. You want your body to be “ready to go” in order to step up to the plate and conquer any given stressor. It is when the stressor is prolonged over a period of time and becomes chronic that the continuous appearances of these “fear hormones” start to take havoc on your body.

Continuous elevated blood pressure and continuous elevated blood sugar levels for example can become precursors for disease. Not only do these chronic factors alone constitute disease, but also they weaken your entire body in general, setting it up for further breakdown.  For example: cortisol is a naturally-occurring hormone in your body, and when in balance it is purposefully released to help conquer a stressor. However, it is a catabolic hormone, meaning “breaking down”, so you can see how in excess it could drive you further and further away from the picture of health. Often when we are stressed, depressed, anxious, you name it, we are sleeping less and our intake of caffeine and stimulant products increases in order for us to squeeze more hours out of each day or simply conquer the negative emotions that seem to be characteristic of this state of mind. This temporary fix for productivity often turns into a habit of burning the midnight oil. Caffeine consumption later in the day and at night, among other things, triggers a cortisol release at an unnatural time. The excess and untimely cortisol floating in your body actually inhibits melatonin, which should help you sleep, correct? Why are you having a restless night again? We all know how our physical body and emotions are affected when our sleep is limited. All too often, we are irritable, short on patience, and to put it simply, not running on all cylinders. What does this do for our confidence and ability to master tasks both physically and emotionally?

Fear emotions start to take over and the cycle and release of fear-related hormones starts yet again.  Now with a lack of confidence and with the physical breakdown of our body simply from a prolonged poor emotional state, picture how it will negatively impact how your body utilizes nutrients for repair. Throw a couple of training sessions in and ask yourself why you aren’t making progress towards your physical goals. Here come the feelings of defeat and lack of confidence again, and the cycle repeats itself.  The key to your emotional health is to recognize the “fear emotions”. Be tuned to the frequency in which you experience them and learn to recognize what causes them. A perfect emotional state will never happen; our bodies are not wired to be perfectly happy or energized all of the time.  Life is about experiencing a multitude of emotions. So experience the sad, the anxious, and the agitated, just be tuned in when it is time to turn the page and move on.

In order to attempt to break the cycle and create balance, you must recognize the triggers to your unhealthy emotions as well as acknowledge and participate in healthy activities that will boost the more positive emotional hormones. Activities such as physical exercise or simply exertion of some sort (i.e. yard work, connecting with others, and selfless giving to others or the community) serve to create chemical reactions within the body that will elevate positive emotions.  Luckily, many of these activities serve to elevate the emotional self far beyond the activity’s completion and serve to generate a sincere boost to the mood, not simply a face put on for the crowd. Emotional health is related to physical health and physical health is related to emotional health in more ways than this article can outline. You can’t separate them, so choose to understand yourself and seek help if you need it. Examine your emotional state, learn from it, and constantly seek to improve it.

So how do we seek to bring about self-improvement to the mind?  Fostering the literal mental component of health is going to be something you often take into your own hands and tackle little by little. One of the best bits of advice I feel ever given was to always be reading a book.  As Mathew Kelly states, “Books really do change our lives, because what we read today walks and talks with us tomorrow”.

Unfortunately, I have adapted this habit of reading far later in my life than I would have liked.  My reading consists of about 45 minutes between the hours of 4am and 6am, depending on the day, and it only happens about 4 days a week. This habit has just developed over the past couple of years because I have found that if I want uninterrupted, focused time, this is when it is going to have to happen. I am not an avid reader, and never have been, however, with this schedule, I can admit I have completed – not just started, but completed – more books over the past couple years than I have in my entire life. This is with just 45 minutes for more days of the week than not.  Because of my limited time, I make sure the books I am reading are going to no question foster my personal growth.

Personal growth can pertain to any of the hats I wear; business owner, health/fitness/wellness educator, mother, wife, daughter, friend, child of God. The amount of information out there on any one of these mentioned roles is overwhelming. I often am overwhelmed on which one needs the most attention or which one I should be focusing most on with my reading, because the answer is all of them.  However, this state of mind only brings about that desire for perfection of all roles, when realistically that will not happen. So instead dedicate your time to growth in one or two areas at a time and it will start to bring about a sense of accomplishment and true growth.  Try not to focus on what you don’t know and your inability to keep up with others or the times around you; rather, tune in to fostering your own personal mental growth even if it is just one book at a time.

Promoting mental growth is an ongoing challenge and books are just one way to do it. Connecting with others and learning new things from them fosters mental growth. Changing your routine from time to time and trying something new fosters mental growth. Many of us are creatures of habit, while others embrace spontaneity and the thrill of the unknown. Regardless, taking your mental growth into your own hands is a must. The boundaries to what you know, what you can learn, and what you can experience are up to you. The more you know, the more you educate yourself on life and life’s experiences, thus the more you can learn to relate to others and ultimately the more confidence you will build within yourself.

This learned confidence you will find will now directly affect your emotions and your emotional state.  As a result, you are indirectly working to improve your emotional health by fostering your mental health. Looking for ways to boost your mental health? Well, here is where physical health again plays its role. Exercising directly affects the retention, creativity, and quickness of the mind. Exercise will boost chemicals in the brain that ward off dementia and cognitive decline. So once again, the physical, emotional and mental realms are all intertwined, one layer always having influence on another. We shouldn’t strive to perfect each one, much less compare our progress to others around us; that is not what life is about. The ongoing effort to constantly improve each one is the answer. Over time, these efforts will bring about the balance to our lives that we all undoubtedly seek and ultimately will define the true meaning of health.

The final chapter of this article will focus on spiritual health. This facet is far different than the physical, emotional, and mental layers of health. It is the deepest while, at the same time, the outermost layer of your health. For me, it is the most personal, and although I know it is always there, it has required work like any other realm. In the meantime, take some action with your emotional and mental health and see where it gets you!

“What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” – Plutarch