Reacting versus responding

Are you reacting to what you are seeing with more agitation lately? Learn the physical and cognitive health issues of stress and suffering.

The definitions of the words reacting and responding are quite similar, but when defining how to settle a disagreement, most would agree that it is far better to respond rather than to react. The word responding makes one think there may have been some time spent on problem solving. There is more television talk shows and news shows discussing issues of today than ever before and asking viewers to go to their websites to continue the discussion, making it seem as though they want more people to react to their show than to think and research on their own.

In the book, “Buddha’s Brain – The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom”, by Rick Hanson, PH.D. with Richard Mendius, MD discusses how humans suffer because of how they react to discomfort. They quoted an expression of Buddha’s around the topic of discomfort as: Inescapable physical or mental discomfort is the “first dart” of existence. As long as you live and love, some of these darts will come your way. First darts are unpleasant, but when we add our reactions to them, these are called “second darts” – the ones we throw ourselves. These second darts are where most of our suffering comes from.

For people wanting to live a healthier lifestyle, the accumulating damage of an overheated life as illuminated on the television and movie screens is a real concern. The authors state that suffering cascades through your body via the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis (HPAA) of the endocrine (hormonal) system.

Chronic SNS/HPAA disturbs these systems and increases risks for physical health issues such as:

  • gastrointestinal issues – ulcers, colitis, bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and constipation
  • immune issues - more frequent colds and flus, slower wound healing, greater vaulnerability to serious infections
  • cardiovascular issues- hardening of the arteries, heart attacks
  • endocrine issues – type II diabetes, premenstrual syndrome, erectile dysfunction, lowered libido

Besides these physical health issues, there are mental health consequences too, such as anxiety and a depressed mood. The authors state that if you can stay present with whatever is arising in awareness, whether it is a first dart or a second, without reacting further, then you will break the chain of suffering. The premise is that over time, through training and shaping your mind, you can even change what arises, increasing what’s positive and decreasing what’s negative.

Michigan State University Extension offers a five session series on Mindfulness that can assist you are developing the practice of becoming more aware. Peruse their website for a Stress Less with Mindfulness series near you.

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