Having a sense of purpose and meaning in life helps to preserve the physical function of your body, as you can probably intuitively feel.
The more you feel like you have a reason to get up each day, the more powerful your intention and your presence and your movement will be all day long.
But how does this translate over a lifetime of using your body?
A new medical study backs up the idea that an intentional, meaningful daily existence translates to a healthier body over a lifetime.
- Researchers enrolled 4,485 patients in this longitudinal study — collecting data starting in 2006 on adults (average age 63) and following up with them every two years for a total of ten years.
- Researchers followed measurements of strength (via grip studies) and mobility (via gait studies) over the following decade.
- Life purpose and meaning was assessed at baseline using the Purpose of Life Ryff Psychological Well Being scale.
- For every point increase that a participant reported on the Purpose of Life scale, they robustly maintained a stronger grip strength and walking speed over the following decade.
- For every point lower on the Purpose In Life scale that a participant reported at the onset of the study, they lost 14% of their walking speed over the next decade of life. (So 2 standard deviations less purpose = 28% slower walking rates. 3 standard deviations less purpose = 42% slower walking speeds, etc..)
- Each point increase that a participant reported in Purpose in Life at the onset of the study gave them the equivalent of a 2 1/2 years younger body — in terms of health and activity level — than their chronological age.
- The more meaning the participants reported in their life at the onset of the study, the stronger and more mobile they remained over the next 10 years of their life.
- Participants who reported a decreased purpose in life at the onset lost more grip strength and slowed their walking pace significantly over the following 10 years.
- In fact, this association was not only significant, it was also dose dependent… patients reporting more meaning retained more strength and mobility in point for point.
- The more meaning, the stronger and more mobile they remained.
- The less meaning they found in their life, the weaker they became and the less they were able to move by the conclusion of the study.
This study reminds me of an earlier study I shared with you, on the power of music to bring back mobility and communication in dementia. In this study, finding meaningful songs from a person’s lifetime literally helped them re-illuminate and re-animate their body… often patients who were not moving and not communicating at all at the onset of the study began to dance, talk, sing and verbally connect after just a few minutes of listening to music.
And this article, where I review a medical study that proves that spirituality matters — finding a deeper meaning in existing helped give longevity and survival advantages to patients over patients without a deeper spiritual value system.
The bottom line?
To find meaning in life… increases your resiliency to life
and preserves your body’s function over time.
And as I blogged about here, there have been several major medical studies released recently that show the major, physical, measurable impact that outlook has on our brain function and brain chemistry.
Meaning, it turns out, is actually brain protective.
The problem is, just when you need to find meaning in life and retain a hopeful attitude most is just when your life is crashing in all around you.
It’s much easier to remain positive and have positive expectations during times of relative peace and happiness in life.
It’s damn hard to have a consistent basis of hope when an unexpected life change, diagnosis, or traumatic incident shakes your very foundation.
But you can do it.
Here are 9 actions can you take today to restore your hope and increase your body’s resiliency:
1. Reconnect with nature.
All you have to do here is walk out your front door, step out of your office, or stop driving and step out of your car.
To reconnect with nature is to reconnect with wonder.
Whether it’s just a few deep breaths as you sit on a patch of grass, simply taking a walk through a local park, or full on spending a night under the stars… reconnecting with the wonder of being a human being standing on a rock that spirals through space and seeing the earth for the vast support network it is can’t help but lift your spirits for the better.
Interviewing two astronauts taught me this: that the earth is a ball of vibrancy whose life and color and beauty stand out powerfully among the backdrop of empty space.
The perspective they shared is the ultimate perspective — reminding us how precious, how fleeting, how beautiful it all is — even with great pain included in that beauty and life.
We can’t all stand on the moon and appreciate the view the way these men did, but taking even one minute to surround yourself with the power of nature has a way of creating a perspective in life that is real, is powerful, is strong.
The power of nature can hold even your worst of days
and remain an immovable source of strength.
Don’t believe me?
The next time you are having a panic attack, or a pounding headache, or a knot of worry grow in your stomach, just go outside.
Get out there.
Don’t force anything, just start walking and let nature work its magic.
2. Focus on Spirit.
The surest way I know to alleviate stress and suffering is to find meaning in it.
Whether it’s through mediation, personal prayer, asking friends and family to pray for you, cultivating your own sense of spirit surrounding and supporting you — these are all such important ways to alleviate stress.
The divine support system is around you, surrounding you, whether you are able to feel it or not.
Never fear that.
Nothing is required of you.
But calling on the power of prayer and connecting with that reservoir of love is an instant boost that strengthens you and changes outcome, no doubt about it.
Need some more inspiration?
Read Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl.
He is a concentration camp survivor who writes beautifully about how the people who survived these horrific conditions were not the strongest, or youngest, or even the healthiest…
…they were the ones who found meaning in what they were going through.
Finding a deeper, spiritual meaning in what you are going through is — in and of itself — enough to sustain you.
My kids will tell you that if I am really grumpy, all we have to do is hop in the car and turn on the radio and within a few songs, all of a sudden I don’t feel so hopeless.
In fact, I feel optimistic and grateful and filled with the same sense of wonder and possibility that I feel when I spend time in nature.
The power of music to wash through you and lift you is amazing.
If you are feeling stressed or depressed, especially if you can not leave your current surroundings (perhaps you are in the hospital or your office or your car…) slip on some music and allow it to sweep through your soul and lift you higher.
Music is universal and can meet you wherever you are.
4. Reach out to your support system.
There IS a support system around you, even if you don’t think you have a friend in the world.
I know I didn’t fully realize how many people I had, providing back up support in my life, until I went through a personal crisis.
Some of my most meaningful sources of support were from people I had never ever met before — like the manager at my local bank and the complete stranger who came to pick up some furniture I got rid of as we downsized our belongings.
Both of these people forever changed my life.
Both of these people are angels living on earth.
And don’t even get me started on the unbelievably generous neighbors, friends and family that I actively leaned on for support.
If you are having a stressful crisis, ask for help.
Ask your neighbor, ask your family, ask your friends.
Even if you have none of the above, go out into the world asking for help to show up — go to the park, go to your bank, go to the grocery store, go to the thrift shop.
Angels are out there waiting to embrace and help you.
A symbolic fresh start during times of stress can help you move on towards healing and help usher in new, positive and hopeful energy instead of feeling stuck.
For me, this meant that the kids and I literally moved and relocated our life.
But even if it is impossible to move, you can go through your entire home with the idea of bringing in fresh energy — freshening up the plants in each room, rearranging whatever furniture you can, adding a mirror or two and burning candles of light in the evenings to help create a new flow of light through old, dark and depressing spaces.
Even if you can’t do anything to change your physical surroundings, creating a symbolic gesture in order to usher in a new start is so very important.
From going outside to take a deep breath of air, to lighting a smudge stick, to ringing a bell and setting a new intention for the space you are in, do something to break the illusion that you are stuck.
You are not stuck.
You are a new person every single day and every moment within that day.
When our physical surroundings don’t change, especially in the midst of great turmoil, you can get caught up in the illusion that your situation is permanent and hopeless.
This is not so… there is always an ebb and a flow of energy through every situation no matter how unchanging it appears on the surface.
The illusion that things never change can mentally hold you in a place of worry.
Release this by making small changes to your living space, changing the energy of the room you are in, physically leaving the space you are in for a breath or two, or using candles/incense/smudging/bells/chimes/lighting/a new plant…
…whatever it takes to feel the energy shift in your space and remind you that nothing… NOTHING… stays the same forever.
6. Gratitude and compassion
This is a no-brainer — one of the gifts of going through suffering is that you can witness and hold other people’s suffering so much more fully.
During our stressful family change, the children and I went deeply into witnessing suffering and holding that space and honoring what other people have gone through.
Compassion and gratitude for the journey and knowing that others have made it through ordeals much much MUCH worse can really help instill hope to your own journey.
As contrary as it sounds, topics that would have felt dark or depressing can powerful and empowering to as you deepen your ability to witness and hold a space for suffering in the world around you and in others.
For example, when the kids and I went through our own traumatic transition, we dove deeply into WWI and WWII studies, reading Anne Frank’s diary and having long, meaningful discussions about suffering and triumph… those felt incredibly moving and fortifying to us.
Knowing the darker side, leaning into it, persevering through it, witnessing with compassion what others have gone through… all of these things make traveling your own dark night feel less lonely and more optimistic in the sense that you KNOW you will reach the other side.
You WILL reach the other side.
Focus on witnessing suffering in others around you and holding compassion for the entire yin and yang of it all, the darkness and light of the world…
…the richness here is a different twist on helping to find meaning in suffering and the gift here is being able to open your heart even wider then you thought possible before.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is even harder to bear on folks with anxiety or stress.
If you are going through a time of great stress, it is more important than ever before in your entire life that you sleep well.
You MUST SLEEP in order to recover from the stress of the day and the stress of the situation.
It is possible to treat anxiety and depression through increasing the quality of your sleep.
Read this article for more ideas on getting better sleep.
8. Body work.
The feeling of worry and stress and anxiety is often the stress of energy that is accumulating in the body without release.
I know I personally feel this as a ball of pressure right in my solar plexus, but it’s different for everyone.
Irritability, crying, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, tension, muscle stiffness, decreased or increased appetite, weight loss or gain, insomnia… often these all represent energy that just needs to be released to make room for the natural healing process and health/hope to return.
If you are feeling stuck and in need of physical release, do any or ALL of the following to help assist your body in letting go of old traumas:
- heat (hot water bottles are the best!)
- water (in the form of showers or baths, as well as increasing hydration by drinking lots of water!)
- deep stretching
- tai chi
9. Focus On Inner Alignment
Life is hard enough to navigate.
It helps to meet all external stressors with internal core strength.
Chakra alignment is an invaluable tool to sustaining your health and remaining centered during life’s storms.
I’ve seen over and over that patients with strong internal chakra alignment affect powerful external change in their life.
The video below will give you a very simple tool you can use any time to increase your resiliency in the face of stress or challenge.
In under one minute, you can run through all 7 of your chakras to be certain you are maximally centered and find immediate relief if you are not.
In this way, you become instantly empowered to tackle whatever it is you are facing.
Running through your chakras before entering a job interview, before sitting down for a serious conversation with your partner, before heading into your doctor’s office to get the results to your labwork, before making a big life decision about where to move or whether to buy a home or not or quit your job or not… being centered deeply within can make a profound change on what happens externally, and in your body’s health.
Taking a moment today to learn this simple technique can absolutely give you a hand’s on tool you can reach for no matter what you face each day.
So let me help you run through this right now with this quick video — it’s a tool you can use for the rest of your life to boost your internal alignment whenever you could use some extra support.
I go so much further and deeper with this concept, immersing you in optimizing your energy flow… in my online Chakra Healing Class.
Everything you experience throughout your day… any obstacle and any blessing… feels so much more powerful when you are meeting it from a place of deep internal balance.
I’ll help you get there.
Together we can take the next 7 weeks in class together and align your core chakra by chakra, building upon your inner strengths and releasing any resistance you have built at each level.
Many of my patients take this online course once a year, every year, to get an internal tune up that just makes everything about the rest of your life run more smoothly.
It starts next in just three weeks on September 18th!
I can’t wait to work together with you to have you feeling
centered and aligned…
…all the way to your core.