In Howard Thurman’s book “The Inward Journey- Meditations on the Spiritual Quest,” he speaks about the decision to act and how it energizes a person and shapes their personality. We often start out “drifting along” without any sense of direction, purpose or passion. Then something happens that shifts us. He describes it as “something very simple and inconsequential in itself but it stabs awake, it alarms, it disturbs.” It is at this time we get out of our comfort zone and take the necessary steps to act in a way that is passionate, purposeful and energizing.
We make billions of decisions in our lives, in fact, according to Cornell University research, we make about 35,000 decision a day. The decisions we made or decided not to make in our lives brought us to where we are today, including where we live, who we are with, who our friends are, where we go to school, our employment, career path, marriage and children. Good or bad we are constantly making decisions that affect our lives.
The focus of this blog is on decisive actions. We often have great ideas in our heads but there are fears that weigh us down giving us reasons not to act. I’m not talking about those decisions that would be destructive or hurtful, but the ones that would propel us forward. Our body and mind are designed to keep us safe from possible danger. When our mind screams out, “are you sure you want to do this, it might not work!” it is doing its job. It is our job to motivate ourselves to take decisive action anyway, especially when it is in our higher interest.
Sometimes we feel stuck or paralyzed in our mind because we are not sure what actions to take. We also may feel that we might hurt someone else in the process. We don’t trust ourselves that we are going to make the right decision. I often see this in my practice when someone is deciding to take the next steps in a good relationship or even ending a bad one. One person is waiting on the other to be the decisive one. I have a friend who has been working at a dead end job for months. He felt that the job was not challenging or utilizing his full potential. He finally decided to take action in finding a job that was more rewarding, challenging and one that makes a difference for others. Indecisiveness can lead to procrastination, avoidance and eventually resentment. Even worse it could keep you in a failing relationship or soul draining job.
When my wife and I decided on having children, I knew we needed more of an income to be able to raise the child the way we wanted. I soon sprang into action, first buying myself a fedora hat and then applying to several jobs. Shortly after I landed a position in a hospital that was more money and better benefits. I knew that my wife and future child were counting on me, which was enough motivation to take action.
Another reason people don’t take decisive action is that they feel they don’t have enough information or knowledge. It is good to evaluate your options, but there is a point when it becomes obsessive, time-consuming and sometimes costly. It is necessary to take a decisive risk at times. Once a decision is made there can be some adjustments, lessons and even victories. If we decide not to take the risk, we may regret it later on. A gentleman that I work with told me he stopped smoking for a week and wanted to remain smoke free. He tried to quit a few times in the past. When asked the reason for quitting this time he said that he runs out of breath very easily and that his boss glares at him when he comes back from smoke breaks. This man made a decision that he’s had enough and came to me to support him in this endeavor. There is always a catalyst that fuels the desire to decide to take needed actions.
So, how do we know what decisive actions to take and how do we gather the energy to push forward? It starts with asking ourselves questions about why must we take decisive action. These questions include: what is the purpose of taking this action; what will be the consequences of being indecisive; what is the grander vision or who else would benefit from the action taken; and finally, whom can I reach out to for support?
When we get that feeling in our gut and start getting frustrated with where we are, we know it’s time for change and we need to take the next steps. When we are at the crossroads of change it can be a scary place. At times we need to make the hard decisions today in order for our lives to be a little easier and fulfilling in the future.
The Mind-Body Connection
“Without mental health there can be no true physical health”- Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)
Not too many people recognize the link between mental health and medical condition. Some do not want to acknowledge mental health issues. As a behavioral health consultant in a health center, I see first-hand how medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease can affect a person's mental well-being and visa-versa. I mostly get called into the medical examination room after a person is seen by their cardiologist. The person often complains about having rapid heart rate, chest pressure or difficulty breathing. Others have issues with alcohol, smoking, have poor compliance with medications or have difficulty regulating their diabetes, blood pressure or thyroid.
Sometimes it is hard to determine when physical pains are medical or are a direct result of stress. When people experience panic attack symptoms they often report tightness in their chest, difficulty breathing, numbness and/or a flood of worry. They report feeling like they are “having a heart attack!” Yes, when someone is having a heart attack, aka myocardial infarction (MI), they have similar symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pressures and a feeling of impending doom. Tests, including an EKG or sonogram, are needed in order to rule out medical irregularities like obstructions. When medically clear, people often opt for anxiety medications alone to deal with their overactive amygdala, which is the fight or flight part of the brain, instead of addressing it in therapy.
When someone has had a heart attack or heart related surgeries, their mental health issues can intensified. People are often traumatized by these life threatening experiences which can increase their anxiety or stress. This may occur when they feel any abnormal sensation in their body believing it being another heart attack coming. This may result in multiple doctor visits or even isolation due to the fear of leaving the home.
Diabetes mellitus is a deregulation of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Too much glucose can result in nervousness, anxiety and confusion and too little sugar can result in being sad, irritable and have poor concentration. On top of the mood swings associated with diabetes, it can also be frustrating having to monitor levels frequently. Research has indicated that those with type II diabetes are twice as likely to become depressed. When someone is clinically depressed they may find it harder to motivate themself to monitor their levels, take medication or to keep up with their medical appointments possibly leading to worse mood swings. This can lead to a vicious cycle of increased illness.
People who are depressed are more likely to have health related issues. They have a tendency to self medicate by smoking, using alcohol or other drugs to numb the feelings. They also go to the doctor less frequently and are less active. Even though exercising can stimulate the brain to produce the “feel good” chemical in the brain called dopamine, they would rather use nicotine which can produce the same chemical. It is hard to motivate oneself when depressed, and easier to smoke, even though it is more costly and short-lived.
An inability to manage stress levels can lead to serious medical issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Often when people are stressed they may become “stress eaters,” not eat nutritiously or starve themselves. Stress and anxiety can also lead to poor sleeping habits that can lead to irritability and poor concentration. That is why it is important to figure out ways to self-soothe and relax. Not all relaxation techniques work for everyone so there needs to be some time and exploration to find out what works.
Our physical bodies and mental health are connected and need to be cared for. When we eat the right foods, stay hydrated and exercise regularly we not only keep the body running but also keep the mind sharp. Sometimes it is easier said than done, but it is important to figure out ways to stay on track, including involving ourselves in activities we enjoy and also forming healthy daily habits and rituals. It is also important get checked regularly by the doctor–especially men, who are more likely to avoid going to the doctor.
Ian Sherman, LCSW-R