Michael pursued a career in writing, paying for necessities with his grocery store gig. For several years he earned very little money and had to radically “downsize” his life–he sold his car, took a cheap apartment, seldom bought new clothes, and ate out rarely. He told me that his simple lifestyle satisfied him; his new work, which he loved, made up for any “loss” of material comfort. Eventually, his income picked up and he made a career of writing. Along the was; his frequent illnesses vanished.
As for myself, I had a family to support and they were not elated (to say the least) that I chose to embark on a new, much less financially rewarding career–holistic medicine, which I wanted to both practice and write about. But I had decided that I had to heal myself of my chronic sickness, sinusitis. Specialists told me that I had to learn to live with it. I refused to believe this and set out to prove them wrong. Ten years later, I had a bestselling book that told how I had cured myself (Sinus Survival: The Holistic Medical Treatment for Allergies, Asthma, Bronchitis, Colds, and Sinusitis, third edition, Tarcher/Putnam, 1995) and gave a holistic program for others to do the same.
Michael’s and my healing didn’t happen solely because we quit our jobs and started over. We changed our lives in other ways, too. We began to eat differently, we exercised, and we learned ways to manage stress with yoga, meditation, affirmations, and even punching a heavy bag. But neither of us would have gotten well without facing the fact that we disliked our work.
Most men, though, are not so lucky. They stay in jobs they dislike, and their health is a report card on their lives. Consider the data on men’s physical and emotional health: men on average live seven years less than women (72 vs. 76); they comprise eighty percent of all suicides and eighty percent of serious drug addictions; they’re three times as likely as women to be alcoholics and twenty-five times more likely than women to end up in prison; nearly 100,000 men die each year from lung cancer, 35,000 of prostate cancer, and 500,000 from heart disease.
Of course, a lot of factors can explain these statistics. But one is most often overlooked–a man’s dissatisfaction with his job. In the late 1980s, the Massachusetts Department of Health identified the two biggest factors contributing to heart disease in men: unhappiness and job dissatisfaction. High scores for these factors were more accurate indicators of the likelihood for developing heart disease than conventional indicators such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle. The study found that more men suffer heart attacks on Monday morning at around nine o’clock than at any other time!
THE $40,000 DRUG–FOR FREE?
It may have once surprised scientists that ill feelings about a job could make a person sick, but not anymore. Scientists now are quite aware that we can’t fool our bodies. Our most hidden emotions play out in the body in ways we’re not consciously aware of–until we get sick.
Through the study of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), scientists have learned how greatly our attitudes, feelings, and beliefs affect our bodies, specifically the immune system. We now know that “messenger” molecules called neuropeptides carry the messages of these emotions through the bloodstream to communicate directly with every cell in the body. People can weaken or strengthen their immune system by their feelings alone. These messages may originate anywhere in the body, not just the brain. A broken heart or sense of gut-wrenching loss can actually “speak” directly to our immune system. So can conflict from a job. The immune system actually functions as a “circulating nervous system” that is exquisitely sensitive to our every thought and feeling.
Not only do negative feelings produce a harmful immune effect, but feelings of exhilaration and joy can enhance immunity. These emotions actually produce measurable amounts of a neuropeptide identical to interleuken-2, a powerful anti-cancer drug that costs about $40,000 per injection. Feelings of peace and tranquility also produce a chemical in the body nearly identical to Valium, a popular tranquilizer.
By learning to harness the power of our beliefs and feelings, we can put our own inner doctor “on call” twenty-four hours a day. This doctor will go to work wiping out diseased cells–and he won’t even bill you! The catch is we have to leave the right message on his answering machine; we can’t continue to play the same negative, limiting tape that we’ve heard since childhood. Because the immune system is sensitive to our every thought and feeling, we need to change our unhealthy beliefs and attitudes if we want to thrive in our health, our work, and in our relationships, too.
Before changing anything, though, you should get an idea of how healthy or unhealthy your job is. I developed the self-test on page 95 for that purpose. This test targets work-related issues and different physical symptoms and emotional factors that might highlight conflicts you have with your work. If I’d taken this test ten years ago, I’d have scored -20. Luckily, I did what the test tells me to do–I fired myself. Today, I score 24, in the upper range.
What most propelled me to boost my score was changing my work. To do that, I had to change the tape playing in my head. Instead of telling myself things like “I’m not really helping my patients by giving them drugs,” I began to recite to myself positive affirmations like “I am empowering my patients to heal their lives as they learn to treat the causes of their disease.” The first message is just negative thinking; the latter is a positive affirmation.
Books are written on the power of affirmations. At first you may feel as I did, that they sound oversimplistic and can’t possibly have an effect. But you will be greatly helped if you can suspend your judgment of them. Instead of letting your visions of your future be clouded by criticisms and judgments from your past, try to make your affirmations as real as possible. Think of an affirmation as the last minute in the final scene of a two-hour movie. Make that final minute as vivid as possible, engaging every sensory detail you can in placing yourself within it. Don’t worry about the previous one hour and fifty-nine minutes. Your subconscious will plot what needs to happen to bring you into realization of that final scene.
You may at first feel that this sounds oversimplistic, too easy; but if you commit for ten minutes a day to working with a list of affirmations for a new life vision, you will be astonished. Affirmations are the most powerful transformational tool I know about. It takes a relatively short time–sometimes only weeks–to watch your goals become a reality.
To do them, just frame a positive statement that describes in the present tense what you feel passionate about or want to be doing: “I am working outdoors in a national park.” “I am cooking food for children in a school.” And if it’s not yet clear, you can affirm, “I am working at a challenging job that utilizes all of my best talents.” Within two months, many of my patients have realized nearly half of their goals. Practice affirmations daily for at least sixty consecutive days; before you know it, your dreams will start to come true.