Lab Rats

I’ve been reading again, so watch out because I am beginning to feel dangerous with all my new knowledge: in fact, I had a full on, hour-long conversation with a friend about nutrition a couple of days ago and basically felt like I was able to teach them something.  Now, this friend is well read and very healthy and fit, so it wasn’t like I was a Professor teaching an undergrad, but I still felt like I might have given food for thought and contributed something to someone else’s health.   Yeah for me!…, or something.

I’m dipping in and out of many books at the moment and today’s feast of knowledge has come from Gabor Mate’s ‘When The Body Says No’.  There are a lot of interesting pieces of information in here, including (obviously) stuff about how your body reacts to stress, like the functional hormonal and cellular effects.

At one point, he compares us to lab rats in the sense that many of us find ourselves trapped in our lifestyles and emotional patterns that he says are inimical to our health.  By the way, as a side note, I’m newly in love with the word inimical (I had to look it up and here’s what it means: tending to obstruct; harmful; unfriendly; hostile) and I’ve decided to use it at work and in other appropriate circumstances.  Anyway, what he’s saying is that there’s a clear correlation between economic development and lack of awareness of what’s happening in our bodies/what factors are affecting our bodies.  We’ve basically become numb to or at least unconscious or desensitized to the impact that stress has on our bodies and because of this lack of awareness of our stressors and to the fact that we are stressed, we are then allowing stress to basically run amok in our systems and do as it will, which is basically damage us right down to our cellular level.

Addressing this as an issue isn’t easy, it requires emotional competence….. yep, those two words go together.  Essentially this means that we have to be aware of our own feelings and desires and capable of dealing with them appropriately and satisfactorily.  He rightly goes on to point out that our society is not exactly set up to achieve this competence.  We’re all about being ‘cool’, which requires lack of emotion, to have tougher skin, to not be so sensitive, etc.   We’ve been taught this and we’re teaching it to our children, which is just perpetuating the problem: just today I told my daughter that there’s no need to cry or be upset unless she’s physically hurt….. now I feel bad about that because I’m honestly only saying it because it’s easier for me if she isn’t whining about nothing and instead I’m trying to focus her attention on only making a fuss when she’s actually hurt.  However, I also think this is healthy in the sense that I don’t want her to be a complainer (we’ve all met those people) or someone who constantly needs other people to help them get through whatever they’re dealing with.  Perhaps it’s more about a balance between the ‘toughen up’ and the ‘cry if I want to’ positions.  I’m going to have to work on that…. and not just for her, for me too, apparently!

So, the other interesting and quite concerning thing that I read, that made me stop reading and start thinking, is this:

“The nature of stress is not always the usual stuff that people think of.  It’s not the external stress of war or money loss or somebody dying, it is actually the internal stress of having to adjust oneself to somebody else.  Cancer and ALS and MS and rheumatoid arthritis and all other conditions, it seems to me, happen to people who have a poor sense of themselves as independent persons.  One the emotional level, that is – they can be highly accomplished in the arts or intellectually – but on an emotional level they have a poorly differentiated sense of self.  They live in reaction to others without ever really sensing who they themselves are.”

Well, that’s concerning.  Is that me at an emotional level?  I don’t know.  Do I not know because I don’t know who I really am?  Crikey!  Now I’ve got some thinking to do and less reacting.  I had a tough day at work reacting to a lot of stuff, i.e. people and their plans, demands, expectations, and political maneuvering, so perhaps I am this person and I’m making myself sick….

Develop emotional competence and a differentiated sense of self….. could that (as well as a balanced diet and some exercise) be all we need to live forever (or at least for a long healthy time)?  Food for thought!


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