January 1, 2016
As you look upon the New Year, you may reflect on the year past and the year to come. Or not. I, for one, hope you are giving some thought to what you want to achieve by the end of 2016. I hope you are paying attention to what you want to accomplish and receive by the end of your life, as well. The purpose of this article isn’t to be so morbid as to go on about death. That would be a bit dark for a supplement about new beginnings. No, the purpose of this article is to emphasize how much can be achieved if we all lived with more intention. This article is also about how counseling can support our efforts in creating a mural, GPS coordinates if you will, for the rest of our lives.
It’s a very common occurrence for most of us especially as we get older. We hit episodes in our lives during which we feel a real disconnect from family, friends, community and sometimes the world. It’s an inner conflict we as humans have dealt with since the beginning of time. What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose? Why was I put here on this planet? Great philosophers have grappled with these questions for centuries. If you are in a good place mostly in your life, these kinds of developmentally appropriate questions resolve themselves on their own. If you are dissatisfied with your career, your health, your significant other, your friends…well, then, it’s a different story. As these questions gain strength in our heads and hearts, fear may arise to the point of illness or pathology. The real physical reaction to that kind of inner stress and fear can wreak havoc on our body’s health, so much so that we begin to wear it on our faces.
You know that face, right? You have seen pictures of individuals who, in your history books, jail reports, or television commercials seeking money for struggling human populations, appear to be much older than their given age. In fact, you need only compare any president’s face inauguration day with his last day in office to see the tremendous impact stress has on our appearance. Maybe there has been a time or two you have caught a reflection of yourself in a mirror or window and experienced surprise at who you saw.
There is some very real biology happening when our body undergoes stress, and it’s not so pretty. Just to be clear, stress is not bad in and of itself. It’s when our brains marinate in stress for long periods of time that we begin to suffer very real problems. Unhappy relationships, financial hardship, dead end professions/careers, can all keep our brains in a fear response during which we remain in fight, flight or freeze for extended periods of time…much longer than what the human animal was built to tolerate. What we now know with modern technology is that, among other debilitating consequences, our DNA strands succumb to the stress response at much faster rates. What this means is our bodies age more rapidly than they ought. What this means is we feel older and we look older.
On the ends of our DNA strands are little caps called telomeres. These little end caps break down over time naturally, which results in our aging. Studies conducted on mothers of special needs’ children demonstrated that these telomeres disintegrate at a much faster rate when we live under extreme stress. This typically results in more health problems. That’s the bad news. The good news?
The good news is that these telomeres showed signs of improvement after these mothers joined a support group. Research indicates that when people talk about the issues stressing them out amongst other people who are focusing on similar conflict, these DNA endcaps showed signs of repairing themselves. Healthier telomeres means a healthier glow. A facelift…sort of.
Talking about problems, fears, issues, conflicts, with another person experiencing similar problems, or even an individual there for the sole purpose of helping you through a rough patch, generates a number of wonderful chemical responses inside your body. One of these positive responses is an increase in oxytocin, the nurturing hormone. For women in particular, oxytocin plays a large role in balancing out our stress hormones. For men, talking can also have some healthy results. Being validated by other people, other professionals, as well as learning ways to grow self-respect, can lead to an increase in testosterone levels. Testosterone is a key player in a man’s body working to balance stress. More oxytocin, more testosterone means less stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Less stress hormones means healthier telomeres. Healthier telomeres means a healthier body, healthier face.
A trusting relationship with a mental health therapist can help you feel better in so many different ways. And a counselor can also guide you to other support groups, organizations, and social networking opportunities that can provide similar positive influences. Therapy does not have to be a lifelong commitment. In fact, very often, a person receiving therapy feels significant positive changes, both mental and physical, in four to six meetings with a counselor. Four to six sessions in which a person feels less stressed, less fearful, more in control. Less stress, healthier DNA. Facelift.
So, you see, counseling is like getting a facelift. And the New Year is just the time to reflect on changes you can make to increase your chances of living your life more to your liking…walking lighter, breathing easier, catching yourself in a reflection with a smile on your face. Here’s to a 2016 full of laughter, intention, and joy!