All of us are familiar with mental stress, which we might have experienced at some point in our life. But why is it that stress affects different people in different ways? Even the physiological impact of prolonged stress varies from person to person – some people develop diabetes, some get cancer, others have high blood pressure.
One reason is genetic. If someone has a weak heart because of genetic reasons, they are at greater risk of developing heart disease due to stress. Stress can be of different kinds – we may be perfectionists, and worry all the time about doing everything to perfection; or we may be vengeful, or jealous – all of which may lead to thought patterns that produce stress. Recent research has indicated that repeatedly having certain kinds of thoughts can damage a particular organ.
If one has Type A personality, characterised by competitiveness, persistent urgency and the tendency to be a workaholic, one is likely to develop heart disease and suffer from migraine.
Similarly, if someone is dissatisfied or unhappy with their life, they are likely to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. When they are helped to get a sense of fulfilment in life, this disorder is greatly mitigated.
I have observed in many cases that those who have Type C personality – they are nice, never get angry, do not or cannot say ‘no’ – often suppress their emotions and this can lead to cancer.
Stress and the concomitant troubles of confusion and indecision can be addressed by using techniques such as meditation and mindfulness.
Psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, psychosis, and bipolar disorder too are rooted in stress. For example, when someone feels that they cannot deal with their stress anymore and give up, they become depressed. Repeated stressful thoughts, such as of falling ill, can lead to anxiety.
But if the mind can make us ill, it also has the power to heal us if we consciously create positive, purposeful thoughts. The key is to make affirmations that change the attitudes or beliefs seated in the subconscious mind.
The subconscious mind influences how we see ourselves and the world. It has been observed that some people remain unhappy even after they have achieved professional success and a high level of financial security. Often the reason is deep-seated guilt or lack of self-worth because of some mistake they have made in the past, or wrong ideas about the self that stem from faulty thinking or the opinion of others.
The solution is to make positive, purposeful affirmations that carry some emotion, which will lend them power. Our thoughts influence the subconscious mind only when they carry an emotion with them. The other way to bring about change at the subconscious level is to practise meditation.
It is the subconscious mind that subtly controls our thinking. It does not recognise logic, so we need to create totally positive thoughts to bring about beneficial change. For example, if I want to conquer fear, telling myself that ‘I do not have fear’ will not help, because I am still thinking of ‘fear’. Instead, I can think, ‘I am courageous’. It is even better to talk to the self in third person – ‘Girish, you are courageous’ – because that has been found to be more effective.
Recognising the spiritual truth that we are originally pure souls and that our shortcomings are acquired traits that do not define who we are, changes the way we see ourselves. That in turn impacts our way of thinking, behaviour, confidence level, and sense of fulfilment.
Positive thoughts, when repeatedly created in meditation, or as affirmations, gradually change our state of mind and, ultimately, the state of our health. In other words, if we mind the mind, much of our physical health is taken care of.
Dr Girish Patel is a well-known psychiatrist based in Mumbai, and a student of Rajyoga with the Brahma Kumaris.