26. Helping faith along
When invested with concentration, many ordinary everyday activities have significant effects for better or worse. Already the merit of a good diet, regular exercise, sleep and other basics has been flagged. Because everyone has only a certain amount of time, undertakings subscribed to need to be prioritised. This might involve cutting out, or down on, some activities and beginning, or doing more of, others. Expectations of spouses, children, parents, bosses, teachers and others can pose the toughest pressures to deal with when making changes necessary to create the new preferred way of life. Whether any sacrifices, with possible related confrontations, are worthwhile is up to each person to judge for themselves – it just could, however, be what tips the scales in the direction of regaining a vital sense of self.
Though often taken for granted, the strange joyous release channeled through laughter is easy to induce by seeking out more material, like videos, books, and situations the individual finds funny, while avoiding the negative. Two very well-known accounts of healing by laughter come from doctors. Robin Williams starred as Patch Adams in a film telling the story of this doctor who doubles as a clown to deliver a type of healing he insists is as important as the medical kind. Norman Cousins wrote a book called Anatomy Of An Illness detailing a critical illness he argues was mainly cured by prodigious efforts he made to keep himself as amused as possible while undergoing medical treatment. It may seem like a tall order to be asked to laugh after going through a terrible time, but it’s worth trying when ready. Those who carry out demanding jobs often develop what’s been called gallows humour: making the best of a bad situation, empathising with the victim’s plight.
The act of laughing causes helpful biochemical reactions in the body and counterbalances depression, stress and helplessness – all aspects of trauma. The number and actions of helper-T and natural killer cells, and salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA) increase, while baseline adrenalin and serum cortisol levels, and the inflammation response, fall; all reassuring indications of a robust immune system. Humour can reverse feelings of loneliness, anger, anxiety and discomfort that inevitably show up during a stressful event, such as hospitalisation, job loss or divorce. When the mind perceives and processes humour it converts it into behaviour to cause a beneficial physiological reaction.
Such a trivial gesture so easily under-estimated but packed with such nourishing power! Similar opportunities can be exploited once it is understood that having health is about doing healthy things. This is partly captured in the counter-intuitive idea of hormesis , which somewhat resembles homeopathy, concerning the odd beneficial effect of limited exposure to irritants in the environment.
It could be argued that journalling achieves this indirectly as people relive and confess experiences and thoughts on the page. The Pennebaker Process, named after Dr James Pennebaker, who studied how expressing feelings has a measurable boosting effect on immune function, has been widely studied and has yielded consistently impressive results. Writing a journal alters coping for the better with feelings of neutral acceptance gradually overtaking strong negative ones through insights gained in the process. Instructions entail writing, for twenty to thirty minutes on five consecutive days a week in a quiet place without interruptions, about significant lifetime events, especially secret ones, and related themes, distinguishing facts and emotions, then and now. Though people may actually feel worse at first, bad feelings usually dramatically lift after persevering for a bit.
Many other routine tasks can be adapted like this to advantage. Meditation pauses, communication refinements and others will be returned to later.