(Health Watch-5), By Haruna M. Sabo
Making this the concluding part of our discourse on the three determinants of health does not in any way suggest that it is the least important. It is apparently as important as the first two on diet and exercise. In fact, when we take into consideration the necessity for using the mind for deciding what to eat or when to exercise the body and in forming good or bad habits, this last part can claim the first position in the arrangement.
In the introduction to his well written book, MENTAL HEALTH (1983), Dr. Ayorinde lamented that, while physical and intellectual development of citizens were provided by the government, emotional development – which was most important for happiness, contentment and peace of mind – was left to individuals by their governments. This implied a worldwide phenomenon.
That then explains why there is so much dissatisfaction, anxiety, chaos, violence and frequent trampling upon human rights and dignity all over the world today. With these problems in clear view, it is easy to conclude that leaders of both the so-called developed and developing nations are equally guilty of the sin of omission, for they are now more confused than they have ever been on what to do to solve their frequently occurring problems of general indiscipline.
What is badly needed in the world today is an ambitious programme of action aimed at bringing some sanity or balance to the emotions of world citizens, at least at the level of policy making and implementation. Psychologists generally are of the view that the various governments in the world can do much better than they are doing now to reform the world through “mind culture.”
An emotionally-balanced person is always the product of a positive mind and, consequently, positive thoughts. This is usually brought about by a fusion of many mental and chemical processes, which act on the physical body to affect the way we feel and relate to others in the society.
It is a universally accepted fact that every form of development had its beginning in the mind through the all pervasive power of thought. However, an accepted fact, which is not fully appreciated, can never be exploited to its optimum potential. That is why man has not been able to exploit and harness the powers of his mind to make this world a better place for our habitation.
The absence of peace in many parts of the world such as Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Congo, Rwanda and Nigeria, etc., in recent years is the outcome of our inability to tame our citizens based on an understanding of the mental processes. Values, attitudes, norms and beliefs develop on the basis of mental orientation and maturity filled with experiences, a fact, which is easily overlooked by world governments, because of deep-rooted chronic materialism even by the disciples of Karl Max.
One of the benefits of physical exercises has been given as the release into the brain of chemicals called endorphins, which promote a sense of positivity and happiness for sometime after the physical activity. This can serve as an effective tool for fighting depression and, over a period of time, helps in lowering blood pressure in persons, who are hypertensive.
However, we need to go beyond using physical exercise to promote the release of body chemicals, which can make us happy only for a while. Emotional balance, which goes with the activities or secretions of certain glands in the body, is easily attainable by the altruistic and creative person. The leading members of these glands ale the hypothalamus located in the middle of the lower part of the brain and the adrenal or suprarenal glands attached to the top of the kidneys like a cap.
The hypothalamus sets into motion the chemical reactions, which lead to the product of endorphins just mentioned. Endorphins are believed to serve as neurotransmitters or chemical messengers in the central nervous system suppressing the excitability of a variety of cells in the central nervous system.
They also stimulate the activity of neurons associated with the experiences of exaltation, ecstasy and other similar pleasant experiences. The sedative or soothing effects of endorphins may be responsible for the feeling of wellbeing experienced when they get to the brain.
The adrenal secretions or hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline are produced in response to sympathetic stimulation in emergency situations, such as muscular exertion or emotional stress. Their release into the bloodstream excites the usual reactions at all the bodily termini of the sympathetic system. These include an increase in the rate and force of the heartbeat, the blood pressure rises, the smooth muscles of the bowel relax, the pupils dilate and the hair stands on end.
There is also increased awareness and apprehension as blood is diverted to the skeletal muscle; glycogen (processed sugar), which supplies energy, is mobilized from the liver and the available supply of free fatty acids is increased to prepare for a fight or flight situation. That is why the extra activities forced on the adrenal glands may leave them exhausted, the result of increased heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, tensed muscles and the release of extra sugar into the blood stream in preparation for action.
These are only a few of the functions for the adrenal glands and hypothalamus, but they are very important in controlling emotions and in molding character, which determine physical and mental efficiency and, consequently, health.
When you harbour fear, jealousy, anger, depression, worry, annoyance, etc., the body perceives any of these as a threat likely to trigger an action that is detrimental to the wellbeing of the body. Its response, which is similar to the primitive urge, is to prepare for defensive action for the body.
That is why the hypothalamus and the adrenal glands react according to the primitive instincts programmed into the system by the natural forces as a defense mechanism. The body interprets all negative feelings as a threat to its existence and responds by preparing for defense.
What is still not clearly understood is over-excitement, which the body also sees as a threat whether the reason for such excitement is negative or positive. Perhaps the clue lies in the similarity in body expression for extreme sadness or happiness, as these experiences tend to produce similar emotions.
All the seven or eight vital glands of the body work harmoniously to secrete hormones that are beneficial to the body and help to sustain life that has been created for a purpose, but negative emotions over-excite the glands and, thus, make them produce the hormones beyond what the body actually needs.
During the primitive stage of life, the hormones often served their purpose since the battle that often ensured between man and beasts, or even with his fellow man necessitated the actual use of the hormones secreted for physical action; but civilization has introduced constrains, which often prevent the modern man from actually expending energy produced to meet an emergency. When so much energy floats within the system without being used, it may turn its action against the body itself and, in the process, paves the way for ill health and sometimes death.
The extra energy summoned during an emergency tends to deplete the cells of the body, which makes particularly disease-fighting cells incapable of performing their normal functions as soldiers of the body. This may expose the body to disease-causing microorganisms, which are always in the environment waiting for an opportunity to invade the body.
Cells which have been depleted, otherwise lost their nutrients, need to be nourished immediately to be able to function efficiently. I have already explained that anger, fear, worry, hatred, depression and other negative thoughts stimulate the body to release more energy into the bloodstream in preparation to counter the aggression of invaders. When one is in a negative mood or emotional state, there is usually no appetite in him as the cells, which stimulate the appetite-producing organs, cannot do their work due to undernourishment. The chain of events created in such a situation leaves the victim ill and vulnerable to infection by enemies of the body.
All these point to the need for man to reduce to the barest minimum the frequency of getting angry, fearful, worrisome or other negative, life-threatening emotions. If they do occur, he should be able to counter them with positive emotions such as happiness, confidence, goodwill, love, peace, etc. This does not mean one should always be happy, cheerful, and joyful or be merry even in the face of adversity or serious threat to life. A balance has to be struck so that you are not overwhelmed with either joy or sadness. Equanimity of the temper is the remedy.
When you are always excited with joy and overwhelmed with sorrow, you are not living an emotionally balanced life. You do not have a positive mental attitude. The ability to live an emotionally balanced life can be acquired through a systematic training of the will, backed up with a strong desire.
Although we are affected by the environment, we can affect or make our environment a conducive one for developing a positive mental attitude. Do not allow any negative emotion to rule you, rather be the ruler of the emotion; otherwise the emotion will lead you astray.
A careful study of all the cases of social aggression leading to vandalism and abuse of human dignity, perpetrated in Nigeria over the past ten years, have had their genesis in deranged minds. Persons, who reacted with violence in supposed defense of their faith or brothers in fact acted in defense of their own bodies. The fear they had was the possibility of facing the same fate as their perceived brothers. So, the underlying reason for their reaction was more of self-defense than for any other reason.
While there was some provocation in many cases, which led to some of the negative emotions mentioned here, if the perpetrators of violence have been trained to control their emotions, the level of violence would have been considerably less than what has taken place.
A really positive mind is the mind that loves and respects every human being, irrespective of religious leaning, ethnic group or colour. Such a mind always looks at the bright side of things, not given to excessive depression, fear, regret, anger, or worry even when he is faced to face with misfortune. Living a positive life ensures that the adrenal glands and hypothalamus work in harmony with other glands to make you emotionally balanced and, consequently, healthy.
From now onwards, we shall look at the practical aspect of our work in the business of evolving a healthier, more productive society in which there is prosperity and happiness.
Culled from Our VISION magazine, Vol.5 No.5, 2004
(Health Watch by Haruna Sabo takes a break from here – CT Editor).