This month the ECCT is blogging about women’s cancer-related health issues and today I am choosing to focus on the impact that women’s emotions have on their physical health. In the Jewish tradition (which is also the root of Christianity, if you will recall and acknowledge that Jesus was himself a Jew), it is believed that women are more spiritual than men. “What?” is the echo that must be reverberating through the internet from the chorus of men hearing this, but this is a fact that can be traced in the Old Testament and Torah (First Five books of the bible.) In fact, women have far fewer spiritual laws that they are required to follow and are not required to engage in years of Torah study because they need a lot less guidance than men, according to that tradition. The nature of the woman is to be inherently spiritual, which is why the nature of the mother frequently sets the tone for the whole home. Even in our African tradition we have the saying “Musha Mukadzi.”
It is from this understanding that I am choosing our Women’s Wellness theme to explore the connection between our emotional well-being and physical vitality. You know from your own experience that every emotion that you have can be connected to a tangible feeling in your own body. For just a minute, as you read the following list of emotions and life circumstances, think about how you feel when you are experiencing them. Do you have a headache? Does your chest tighten or expand? Do you experience aches? Do you feel lighter or heavier; relaxed or tense? How does your stomach respond? How about your appetite?
Holding your newborn baby
Fighting with your best friend.
Receiving good news.
Death and grief.
Divorce or break-ups.
All of these physical feelings can be traced biochemically and scientifically to the release of hormones, neurotransmitters, neuropeptides and so forth into your system when the emotional floodgates are open.
Think of the hormone oxytocin. It is known as the love hormone and is definitely a feel good hormone. It is released when a mother breastfeeds her child (assisting with bonding), when you are having a good time with the girls, and even when a woman experiences an orgasm, (yes I went there) for instance. It is never under any circumstances released when you are holding on to resentment, anger or petty jealousies.
In fact negative thought patterns and prolonged depression send signs to the immune system to shut down and correlate with high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone – low levels are normal and helpful but extremely high levels lead to chronic stress) which have been linked to numerous health problems, including cancer. Holistic physicians and caregivers now integrate emotional well-being into all their protocols for treating disease and consider it to be one of the most crucial aspects of healing.
As women we frequently do too much for others and too little for ourselves. I found this list of common emotional traits that are shared by cancer patients to be very telling:
Here is the ECCT list for reversing some of these tendencies that work against our well-being as women.
- Discover what you are here to do and then live deliberately on purpose. Listen to free sermons with inspirational spiritual leaders like Bishop T.D. Jakes at the Potters House or whomever inspires you to live on purpose. You could also check out the book that Teurai Chanakira co-wrote with Wizzy Mangoma (and yes this is a shameless plug for my fabulous sister) featuring the stories of the journeys of various creative Zimbabwean women – “As They Find a Way on Amazon.
Not everyone is a cultural creative, it could just be a matter of finding volunteering opportunities, having a family or being brave enough to switch professions, but if you are not on purpose you will feel growing discontent in your mind and body, and possibly in your life.
- Stop gossiping. This is a negative space and a complete time suck. This kind of negativity hurts others and will always come back to you and if you look down deep, does it really feel good in the long term after the laughter has subsided? Putting down others to feel better about yourself is just a short term fix with long term negative impacts.
- Avoid naysayers and drama-makers at all costs. Seek positive friendships and be that kind of person for others in your life.
- Learn to say no. This is so important for women, especially because we are trained to say yes to everything from birth. You cannot be everywhere and everything to everybody at all times. You are not Wonder Woman. So take off your cloak and do not give to the point of exhaustion. Remember that your vitality and wellbeing is of more use to others than your fatigue and resentment.
- Build supportive friendships with other women. (Remember the power of oxytocin.)
- Look after your health. ECCT is full of tips on healthy lifestyle choices that include diet and exercise. As you heal and look after yourself physically, your body will create biochemicals that will help you feel better emotionally as well. Clearer thinking, happier feelings and a lot more energy will be your reward.
- Employ the power of forgiveness. There are so many books on this topic, that I needn’t go into detail – but remember the saying “Holding on to anger and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Grudges will literally eat you up physically. If the person is no longer in your life or you are unable to speak to them for whatever reason, try writing them a heartfelt letter and then burning it. Repeat this process, prayerfully and sincerely, for as many days or months that it takes, until the feeling of resentment has totally disappeared. You can also seek counseling on the matter from respected family or spiritual elders, or from a licensed psychotherapist.
All of these tips are free and you can start immediately wherever you are – so no excuses please! I hope that you feel more inspired to clean up house inside your head and heart. This is one of the top ways to keep disease away from your body. As women we are the foundation of our homes and communities, and thus ultimately the world. If you can heal yourself, you can heal the world.
**Support the ECCT’s “Sponsor a Zimbabwean Cancer Patient” campaign which will help us sponsor 5 disadvantaged cancer patients from Jan. 2013. Click here for more info & to make a donation.
*Pic sources: liveunchained.com; inmagine.com.