Why mind over health, matters

The human brain is ‘Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones’. —Psychologist Rick Hanson

Did you know humans have a natural negativity bias? Apparently we remember on average seven times as many negative things as positive ones.

With such odds stacked against us, how can we turn that around? Glad you asked. It’s as simple as paying attention to the present moment, or being “mindful”.

Monash University’s clinical psychologist Dr Richard Chambers says mindfulness techniques train our mind to unhook from unproductive thought patterns.

Is being mindful hard to do? No. It just takes practice using cognitive behavioural strategies (CBT) that teach us to be kind to ourselves, as opposed to being critical or judgmental.

Adopting a mindful life is about paying attention to “what is” and not “what if”.  It’s having the ability to distinguish between what our imagination is telling us and reality. That is, when we get caught up in “what-if” scenarios we allow ourselves to become stressed, angry or even sad. Our imagination takes over and instead of looking at hard cold facts, we fill in the gaps. It’s a recipe for disaster mentally, emotionally and physically.

So how does this negativity bias manifest?

Say you have a health goal, you’re trying to be healthy like eating well and exercising, or trying to lose weight or get a good night’s sleep … have you noticed when you focus on the negative what-ifs you fail?

For example, we tend to ask ourselves:

  • What if I can’t sleep tonight, and then we begin focusing on the fact we can’t get to sleep.
  • What if I don’t reach my goal weight, and then we decide we may as will give up and eat unhealthy food to comfort us.

The way out of it is to focus on the here and now. Paying attention to what is going on around us is a first step in cultivating mindfulness. The practice teaches us to live each moment as it unfolds and accept what’s happening.

As part of my journey with Health Storylines, I’ve noticed since adopting a mindful approach to life, I can reduce stressful thoughts. I find tracking my progress on things such as symptoms, weight, mood, documenting health concerns, or writing in a journal brings me back to “what is”.

After I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours and had surgery, I used the Health Storylines app every day. It became my greatest support in helping achieve peace of mind and later providing encouragement to reach my health goals.

It helped me track symptoms so I could calm myself with “what is” instead of going into meltdown over “what if”.

Using the Health Routine Builder, I went from walking as little as 2000 steps a day to 10,000, and using Guided Meditation, I learnt how to master mindfulness in an instant.

As previous Self-Care Ambassadors have written before me, the purpose of Health Storylines is to help people improve their quality of life through their own data.

It’s a really powerful tool so I have accepted the challenge to encourage family and friends as well as readers of this blog to monitor their health through the app.

PAPER TRAIL

So if you’ve got a health challenge in mind and you want to come along with me on this Health Storylines ride and face “what is” and leave the “what ifs” behind, then my first challenge to you is not only to track your health via Storylines but also to track your stool health using the Stool Diary tool.

Yes, not the most glamorous of first challenges but an extremely important one as it is a window into understanding digestive health. It tells a story of an individual’s wellbeing.

My symptoms manifested this way but I didn’t realise the importance of how our digestive system regulates the body’s inflammatory and immune responses. So it is especially helpful to track your stool if you have experienced symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea, or irregular bowel movements.

Bistol Stool Chart
Here are more detailed steps to start tracking your stool:
1. Open the Health Storylines app on your phone, or click here to use the online version
2. Click on the ‘Tool Library’ in the menu (if using the app version, simply scroll left on the top of the screen and click “add tools”)
3. Click on ‘Stool Diary” and add it to your home screen
4. To document your stool, simply click on the picture which most resembles your stool, followed by the colour
5. Click done, and repeat regularly (you can also share your results with your doctor)

Once you start tracking your health you can compare your stool to the Bistol Stool Chart (pictured) and find out what’s your normal.

If you notice anything amiss, like blood in your stool, or very dark stools, experience diarrhoea or constipation over long periods of time, make sure you mention it to a health-care professional.

Of course, if you’ve switched to a healthier diet you’ll notice changes here (more frequent movements or more formed stools that are lighter in colour). Walking will also get you moving, in more ways than one, so let’s end this challenge with a poop poll! 

The author has used Health Storylines app since being diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours of the small intestine in 2016. After more than a year documenting her health via the app, she was approached to become a Self-Care Ambassador as part of a pilot to encourage others to track their health. She gleefully accepted the challenge. Show your support by tracking your health using this link: https://judyw.healthstorylines.com/app/#/register