Why is Achieving Balance so Essential? Your Key to your Health, Well-Being and Success, Part 1

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Proactively Balance Your Life – in the Salutogenesis Spirit! 

Psychological well-being can have a positive influence on one’s physical health by combating stress and helping to maintain balance in the immune system. Psychological well-being can be promoted by establishing a stable feel-good routine. You yourself have the resources to manage your affairs and lead a meaningful life. You are the boss of your body and show, by nature, a fighting spirit. Creating and maintaining an awareness of this is a vital component of having a balanced and successful lifestyle. 

But how can we do this? First, let’s look at the science behind some methods and then I will give you a few tips on how to improve your life on your own and using resources you already have. 

By pure coincidence I learned of the Salutogensis Conference for Cancer in Hamburg in June 2017 and instantaneously I had a very strong compulsion to attend. At first, it did not really seem to make any logical sense for me as a business/personal coach to attend since I am not involved in medical care. In fact, even the idea of devastating diseases such as cancer was unsettling. My friends and colleagues found my idea to attend rather odd, that it was somewhat ‘out of my element’. Yet I had a stalwart determination to participate. There was an inkling that the methods and mental mettle used by those successful in combating the horror of the disease could perhaps be modelled and applied in order to enrich one’s own life. For me it was a no-brainer. I knew there would be important lessons to be learnt from the conference. 

Dr Wolf Bünting initiated the ‘Salutogenesis Working Group against Cancer’ in 2013. What motivated the founding members to launch the group was, according to Dr Bünting, the ‘confusion about the collective denial of psychosocial and stress-induced influences on cancer.’  

Discovering Salutogenesis

Salutogenesis is an expression coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. Salutogenesis is a combination Latin salus, meaning health, and the Greek genesis meaning origin. 

The spirit within the concept is that the focus of health care should also be on the factors which support health and well-being rather than just on the causes of disease.

The salutogenic model believes that those who maintain a mentally and emotionally health state are not dangerously or emotionally impaired by stress. We can all immediately utilise our resources to apply the methods designed to help us combat a range of stressors. 

The significant role long-term psychosocial stress plays in triggering cancer became abundantly clear during the presentation by Dr Christian Schubert. Dr Schubert, a renowned researcher and psychosomatic therapist at the University of Innsbruck, discussed the role long-term psychosocial stress plays in triggering cancer. 

He explained that stressors can cause the release of the hormones adrenalin and cortisol and this prepares the body for the fight-and-flight response. The release of these hormones can inhibit the production and migration of immune cells. When this happens on a an incessant basis –without any counterbalancing influences – your immune system activity decreases, which can result in a misbalancing of the immune system. It is this destructive scenario which can cause inflammation. This scenario is also associated with allergies, infection susceptibility, cardiovascular disease and tumour growth.

Studies have shown that the autonomic nervous system has a one-to-one relationship with the immune system. This means that when we experience stress, autonomic nerve activity can reach immune cells and as a result, alter their protective properties.

One way to counteract this imbalance and to create balance in the immune system is to generate a ‘feel good mind-set’. A feel good mind-set is one in which we are able to allow our positive thoughts and feelings to dominate our way of thinking and our behaviour. The feel good mind-set functions as a buffer against and neutralises the negative stressors one encounters in daily life and psychologically promotes a healthy immune system. 

Dr Schubert also discussed a research project at the University of Innsbruck (which is in its 14th year) that measures the potential positive effect that positive psychological influences can have on immunological processes.  Positive psychological factors include reduction of stress through, for example, mindfulness meditation and creating a feel good mind-set.

Learning from a Survivor

Mr O. was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998 at the age of 63. The self-employed architect is now happily retired with his wife. He shared his experiences on the road to recovery with the audience at the conference. After receiving his cancer diagnosis, he got into his car to drive home and shouted: ‘You will not get me! Not this time!’ What followed was a remission of his cancer without any significant traditional medical intervention.

What happened? He changed his lifestyle. Immediately after waking up, he meditates for about half an hour, and then takes a brisk walk “in the fresh air!” While doing his exercises he also breaks into song which automatically elevates his mood. He makes sure to do Tai Chi every day and participates in “spiritually enriching activities” together with his wife. 

Mr O. frequently participates in other invigorating and mentally enriching activities:

  • Once a year he participates in an Ayurveda treatment in Germany. After this multiple-day treatment his PSA level is measured and it always at a lower level. (PSA is a substance produced by the prostate gland and an elevated level may indicate cancer.)

  • He founded and actively participates in a prostate cancer self-help group which he finds enormously therapeutic and “spiritually supportive”. In the group they are able to talk about things which are not discussed “even with the doctors”.

  • He undergoes Feldenkrais therapy on a weekly basis. (The Feldenkrais Method is a mind-body therapy devised by Moshé Feldenkrais that endeavours to reorganise networks between brain and body so as to improve body agility and psychological state.

  • He takes selenium and vitamins C and D daily.

For the last 20 years his wife and he have done ‘spiritual work’ together. Mr O. enthusiastically emphasised how supportive it has been for him and his wife to have taken up music and art together as a form of therapy. He has drum lessons once a week with a teacher; he and his wife have become quite prolific artists. Several years ago they produced a number of angel marionettes which were hung in churches and other public places around Hamburg.

The sprightly 82-year-old concluded his presentation by passionately underscoring that for him, art allows him “the opportunity to play!” — “As a child I could never really play,” he bemoaned. With every word he spoke, it was clear that Mr O. relishes life to its fullest. As a final touch to his inspiring talk, Mr O beamed: “in the meantime I can play and it is FUN!”


Up next, in Part 2

In Part 2, we will analyse what the survivor has undertaken and why that can lead to success. You will also learn a fun-to-do exercise that you can immediately implement to support your feel good mind-set.

Just one more thing: perhaps you will find time to think about and answer these questions before you read part 2: Why might the survivor’s habits and life style offer a success potential and, what can you do that you are not already doing to invigorate your feel good mind-set? Tip: jot down your answers in a few short notes so as to better commit them to memory. 

Part 2 will available at the end of February. See you soon!