5 min read
29 May
29May

Let’s talk about health. Specifically, how to carry on despite poor health. 

There is one skill that we all already possess that could improve our health if we simply learn to emphasise it. If absorbing this short article can increase our chance for prolonged good health, what a great use of our time. 

News headlines over the last week have covered two differing approaches to health struggles. Both were interesting.  Jeremy Paxman, the British television institution and Quizmaster of the popular British show “University Challenge”, bravely disclosed this week that he is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. His stoic attitude regarding his Parkinson’s announcement was exemplified in his statement, “it’s not the worst that can happen”. Paxman’s positive twist on negative news was also reflected in his newspaper commentary which was filled with wit, gratitude, and humility. He continues to receive massive public support. 

This week’s papers also ran several features covering Prince Harry’s discussions about his mental health struggles and the methods he’s using to treat trauma. In the documentary, Harry is seen being guided by a therapist in eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing or EMDR. This technique was developed in 1989 and remains controversial among some health care professionals. EDMR is designed to alleviate stress associated with traumatic memories. The Duke is seen crossing his arms and tapping on each shoulder, a technique called bilateral simulation.  The techniques he demonstrated may be more common practice in his new home of California, but here in Britain his disclosure of chest tapping and eye fluttering was met by some readers’ eye fluttering of their own. But let’s allow Harry to pursue what methods he wishes to improve his own health. 

The Duke of Sussex also shared fresh revelations about how his youth was spent without adequate levels of support from his family. Many perceived these as unacceptable, personal attacks on the Royal family. The Duke seems to be increasingly losing popularity in Britain. His current PR strategy may err on negativity and risk market over-saturation, but perhaps this does not matter if he is on a road to recovery. Some in Britain have wondered how a man borne into wealth and position could be so seemingly ungrateful and hurtful.  Perhaps more focus on positivity and less on blame would better help heal his hurt? 

These two comparisons got me thinking: what is the best way to improve our health? The key seems not only to be the type of treatment, but in learning the skill of positivity throughout it. 

Many of us over 50+ currently combat or have recently combatted some serious health issues. Even more of us know someone who’s facing these challenges. Poor health and its affects literally derail our lives.  Strong, independent, and positive people become the opposite. Big personalities become shells of themselves. Family focus turns inwards. Positivity ebbs. Gratitude may shift towards bitterness. How can we be our best selves despite managing poor health? 

I am interested in the connection between positivity and good health. For years psychologists have found links that exist between immunity suppression and depression. While scientists are still seeking to prove this relationship, researchers do suspect a connection between positivity and being better protected against the inflammatory damage of stress. A study conducted at Johns Hopkins University found that people with a family history of coronary heart disease and also a positive outlook had a 34% less chance of suffering a cardiovascular event than their counterparts with negative outlooks.  Being more positive may actually make us more healthy. So, what do we have to lose? It seems like we can all benefit from trying to maximise positivity.

How to Be More Positive 

Positivity is not only a personality trait that some are born with, it is also a skill which we everyone can learn. That’s good news for people with a more naturally pessimistic outlook. So how can we train ourselves to be more positive? 

Smile, smile, smile. 😊 

The act of simply showing your pearly whites improves your health. A University of Kansas e study reported that scientists have found that “smiling, even fake smiling, reduces heart rate and blood pressure during stressful situations”. So perhaps we should watch our favourite comedy clips for some humour therapy when we’re seething over a work or family situation? Or flip through a family photo album to go down memory lane? It’s difficult not to smile when we’re watching a funny video or staring at photo proof of that outlandish hairstyle of 20 years ago. I’m smiling now.

Practice Gratitude  

Let’s wake up and remind ourselves of all the things we have to be grateful for. Let’s think about and celebrate our small wins. Let’s avoid the toxic blame game. Even if our health isn’t great, is there a slight improvement we can celebrate? Let’s learn to focus in being grateful for what we do have, not what we don’t. Is the sun shining? Can you look forward to plans to see friends or family? Let’s practice gratitude despite poor health.

Avoid Personal Comparisons 

It’s easy to compare ourselves to others. Especially in this world of social media where everyone seems to be perfect and healthy. We should remember they are most probably not. And we have no control over their lives. But we do have control over our own life. We each have control over the attitude we chose to have each and every day…Positivity and Gratitude. 

Practice Reframing 

The art of learning to reframe your thoughts to be positive and constructive is helpful in our quest for lead more positive and thus healthy lives. Instead of stressing about the stationary queue we’re stuck in, how about we appreciate the enforced down time we have while waiting? We have a few extra minutes to listen to some music or the news, while accepting that there is absolutely nothing we can do about the wait. That feeling is liberating…and the music or podcast moment may even release a new thought, smile (see above) or possibly even a hidden foot tap or hip wiggle!

I’m not ashamed to admit that I've been known to frequently break out with some impressive - at least to me-  dance moves whilst listening to my iPhone. One such time this urge came over me whilst I was stuck standing in the aisle on a multiple hour train ride from London to Edinburgh. What can I say, ABBA still makes me wiggle.  #truestory #nojudgmentplease.

Maintain Good Relationships with Family and Friends

For this article, I interviewed over two dozen women who have recovered from life-altering illnesses. They all reinforced my belief in the power of positivity. They each stressed the importance of a "glass is half full" mentality and credited their friend groups as key contributing factors for a sustained hopeful outlook and thus recovery. Many didn’t predict the vital impact of supportive friend networks. WhatsApp or FB Group chats filed with light-hearted conversation, lots of emojis, silly jokes, even risqué commentary were all mentioned as helping to sprinkle the magic of positivity into their lives. 

Going forward

If we must endure any health concerns, let’s hope The Next Half readers only face mild and easily managed ones. 

Some struggles are obvious and noticeable, and some are less so. One’s struggle with an organ problem or mental health issue can go undetected. Only the closest confidante may be aware of those fights, and often not until the battle has been waging for a while. Sometimes the victim is the only one who knows about their struggle. 

Not seeing a health problem doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Someone we know could be struggling every moment of every day. Let’s keep that in mind an err on being more kind, patient and less judgemental.

I will start striving for these attributes today. But first I need to growl at the slow barista at the front of this never moving queue, then smile and stop glaring at the new mom who's focused on her mobile whilst her baby cries.  Being positive is a work in progress…

We’ve now figured out the practising positivity is not only a skill we all have and can further hone, but it’s an elixir for good health. 

Let's implement the suggestions above and start being more positive. It doesn’t hurt to try. Perhaps we can finally answer that question on University Challenge about eternal health.

Let’s believe this cocktail of positive attitude mixed with the prescribed medications will enable us to carry on living more healthy and contented lives for The Next Half. 

Let’s adhere to this positivity mantra: “If life gives us lemons, let’s make …. margaritas!”. 

And let’s seize that margarita…that is, if our health challenge allows us to drink.

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