Check the Attitude

The Impact of Attitude on Health

It was the fifth of July 2011. Most people were probably clearing up their Fourth of July festivities. They were most likely bagging up paper plates and plastic cups, cleaning up sparklers and poppers, or boxing up decorations and leftover food. Living just another normal day.

For me, though, that day was the day my life unraveled. I came undone.

It was the fifth of July 2011. That was the day my mom was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.

My life flipped and didn’t land quite right. I didn’t know how to react, so I immediately kicked into survival mode. I lived in the zone of doing whatever needed to be done, trying not to feel helpless. I needed the distraction of being busy to carry me through each day. I tried to shut out everything else, operating under the assumption that my emotions would make me weak. Thus, I did all in my power not to feel.

It was the darkest, most tumultuous time in my life. As my mom’s health continued to deteriorate, my thoughts plunged farther into darkness. I watched, helpless to change the situation, while my mom suffered through cycles of chemotherapy and radiation. And her symptoms continued to attack her, growing more severe. Aphasia robbed her of communication. She lost her ability to speak. This woman who had raised and nurtured me, whom I deeply loved and cherished, was unable to talk to me. And I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t save her.

All I could do was watch her steadily decline.

Consumed with a hatred that I didn’t even realize was there, I despised everything and everyone. It was so embedded in me that I became a sponge that soaked up only negativity. I loathed the world, unable to see any beauty in it. I lost my ability to empathize, unable to pity the suffering of others. My suffering was all that existed. My pain and grief were all that mattered.

This all-encompassing negativity took strong root within me, growing and spreading a toxic illness that coursed through me and then radiated outward. My outlook and response took its toll on me, emotionally and physically. My health began to decline in response to grief and anger.

Despite my commitment to exercising and eating well, my body refused to be as healthy as it once was. I was constantly tired. I started to fall ill, when I had been sickness free for years. Instead of reflecting my healthy fitness living, my body mirrored the unhealthy mire of depression that had settled in my mind and soul.

I wasn’t even aware of the impact my tight grip on grief had on my health, until my wife sat me down and lovingly showed me the negative side effects of my choice to hold on to my pain. She, and others whom I love and respect, showed me that, at the end of the day, you only have so many years on this planet.

You are not guaranteed the next breath, so it’s a shame to waste your time hating the world and basking in negativity. I also realized that I was tarnishing my mother’s memory. She taught me to live with love and kindness; she wished only happiness for me. If I chose to focus only on the bad, then it disgraced her memory and all she had done for me. I needed to live in the beautiful way she had lived. I had to stop playing the victim, and start giving thanks for the things that mattered in life, the things that made my life unique and wonderful.

Everyone walks through dark times. And some of those times are far darker than others. There are varying degrees, all of them valid. They demand to be dealt with, but in a healthy way and with well-founded support. While they should not be avoided, they also should not be given absolute control. Remember that shadows cannot be cast without light. Thus, the light is there. You just have to be willing to seek it. You have to choose to let light reign in your life, rather than dark.

And that’s the great thing about it. You have a choice. You may not have power over some of your life circumstances, but you do have the power to choose your reaction.

First, I had to accept that it was natural, and perhaps even necessary, to be angry. I learned that it was okay for me to be vulnerable. My vulnerability did not make me weak. In fact, it helped to strengthen me. Then, I had to realize that I could not allow my anger to take over and control me. Until I could accept these things, I could not change my attitude.

In yoga, the first thing you learn is to accept the way you are. You can’t advance to the next level until you emotionally accept all of who you are, the good and the bad, in the present moment. Similarly, in life, if you want to start moving forward, then you have to change your attitude. And in order to change your attitude, you must first accept yourself.

It’s not always going to be easy, but when you decide to choose to live with grace and optimism you begin to fill yourself with goodness and joy that shine beautifully in your life and into the lives of those around you. You may find yourself enjoying a more vibrant and healthier life. Your outward appearance will physically reflect your inner attitude. Fill yourself to overflowing with goodness and let your physical health mirror a positive mind.

The samurai were famous for forging swords made of the toughest steel. What was their secret? They beat their steel. They beat it over and over and over again. And as a result, they ended up with the strongest steel that could slice through a man’s torso. In life, you could be beaten down by immense pain and ineffable grief, but that beating may have a positive outcome. It could possibly mold you into samurai strength steel, if you choose so.

It comes down to you and your choice.

So, how are you going to fill your life? How are you going to see your circumstances? Are you going to drain your health with a negative attitude? Or are you going to promote better health with an attitude that thrives on optimism?

South Asian Men, Chill Out. 

We’ve all got that one angry uncle in our lives, or a dad, or a friend… You know the one. The dude who you grew up watching from a safe distance (hopefully) as he yelled and slammed around and generally acted like a colossal jerk, every time someone or something didn’t go his way. And you thought to yourself, Wow. I will NEVER be that guy.

Fast forward ten years, and you start to understand where that rage comes from. You’ve got a backlog of student loan payments, sudden car repair bills, a job that doesn’t quite fit your plans for your life, and more importantly, people who just won’t line up the way you want them to. All of this builds and trips and tweaks you out of shape, way more often than you’d like to admit. And yeah, sometimes you boil over. We get that.

But guys, there’s this thing about anger that nobody talks about: It kills you. Not right away, but it builds up in your arteries and your nervous system, and slowly festers into things like atherosclerosis and mood disorders and other, equally unpleasant things.

It’s not the anger. It’s how you deal with it, or don’t.

Doctors agree that anger isn’t a villain, all by itself. Everyone experiences anger. It has its place in the range of human emotion, and can even do you good, in small doses. What causes your blood pressure to spike and your arteries to harden is when that anger controls you. It pumps you full of cortisol and adrenaline, and wreaks havoc on your body.

Cortisol and adrenaline are the chemicals that make you want to yell and brawl and throw things. The more you allow them to have their way, the stronger they grow. It feels good, in the moment, to let them rush through you unhindered. But the more you give in to them, the harder it is to slow yourself down the next time you get angry. And the more you allow them to tamper with your brain and your cardiovascular system, the faster you get sick.

Conversely, holding all of that bad juju inside can also kill you. Doctors say it takes a steady hand to find that middle ground, where you can express your anger in a healthy way, without raging, and without holding it in.

Find a better outlet.

So how do you redirect those rampaging chemicals into something healthy, instead of something toxic?

1. Talk to yourself. Anger management therapists teach this first, before any other technique. That’s because what you say to yourself is often what sets you on a rage spiral in the first place:

  • ‘Should’ thoughts: “She should have told me she was going to be late.”
  • Extreme thoughts: “He always does this! He’s such an idiot.”
  • Jumping to conclusions: “I knew they would do this. They’re trying to ruin everything.”

When you hear yourself starting to think in anger mode, stop and force yourself to turn it around. Replace your angry self talk with moderation. Aim for generosity and sympathy, instead.

  • “She probably has a good reason for being late. I’ve been late before, too.”
  • “It’s not going to matter a year from now, anyway.”
  • “This can be fixed. It will just take a little more work.”

Positive self talk is a skill that can be learned, but it takes practice. You won’t always get it right, and that’s okay. It’s worth picking yourself up and trying again, because this can actually contribute to your happiness, and the happiness of the people who share space with you.

2. Talk to others. Sometimes you can’t pin down your angry thoughts by yourself. In fact, you might be so used to hearing them that they sound normal. In this case, a therapist, or even a patient friend, can become a perfect sounding board. Let a few loved ones know that you’re working on your anger, and practice speaking honestly to them about the things that tick you off. You might find that the simple act of sharing what’s bugging you can cool you off almost instantly.

3. Move your body. It’s important to get that cortisol under control, quickly and often, before it wrecks your system. Fortunately, you can train your body to let go of stress and anger at will. Some of the best options:

  • Yoga: Yoga teaches you to focus, breathe, and relax. It’s the ultimate chill pill, and it is unbelievably good for pretty much anything that ails you, including chronic rage. If you haven’t tried it yet, you’re late.
  • Martial arts: Like yoga, most martial arts are big on mind/body control. They teach you to get a grip on yourself in every possible way, especially when you’re feeling threatened and angry.
  • Running: Ever heard of a runner’s high? That’s a real thing. Running gives you an endorphin high like very few other sports can offer. No matter how angry, sad, stressed, or annoyed you feel, you can usually work it out simply by running long enough and hard enough.

Start now.

The longer you live under the oppression of anger and rage, the earlier you will develop high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and a host of other health troubles. You also risk alienating the people you care about, and generally making everyone’s lives more miserable than they need to be. Remember that angry uncle? So don’t be that way. You’ve got options, and a full life ahead of you.