Sunday, January 5, 2014

Writing and Health

A recent NPR feature talked about writing and health, focusing on the work of James Pennebaker, a professor of psychology from an esteemed university, citing medical studies that writing does improve mental and physical health especially if recovering from a traumatic emotional experience. I looked at Pennebaker’s website and his YouTube videos to learn about his ideas, confirming scientifically, the benefits of diary or journal writing to one’s wellbeing, a link that one can intuitively feel when writing after highly emotional events. This is my first time to see someone directly link writing to health, where the act of writing one’s feelings and one’s take on the event that just transpired,  can re-wire the brain, positively calming the mind as the words offer clarity and a proactive version of what had just happened. A person disposed to worrying and anxiety will doubtlessly benefit from regular writing both physically and mentally especially when combined with exercise and meditation. This validates what I have been doing for several years now, intuitively finding a solution to one’s stress and anxiety, a do it yourself cure for mental agitation or emotional disorders like anxiety.

Someone who frequently travels and works in different countries has more stress when trying to blend in with the local staff while tackling difficult projects, adapting to the local culture, trying to pick up social cues in a foreign milieu. Writing about one’s experience clarifies the mind, creating associations and so on, and reliving anxiety by the act of journaling. One sometimes see slights or differences of opinion from others as a sign of conspiracy, everyone is out to get me so to speak, a paranoid frame of mind that extends to one’s family; an overactive imagination in need of soothing. The mind is also fevered by its constant quest for stimuli and input, driven to overload by all the new gadgets. For instance, one had resolved to spend time on the Playstation3 (to improve cognition), exploring the Sony network, using Bluetooth speakers and headphones to listen to internet radio, discover new music and talk shows, browsing tablet apps like Flip Board, Currents and other news aggregators, spending more time in You Tube, browsing channels that focus on Android, economics, finance, history, music and movies. This is the new world, the electronic future coming into being, as one works into his life.

Yesterday I met a lawyer to talk about LLCs (or limited liability companies), researched on the internet about LLCs and about bankruptcy, learning about crowdsourcing and other alternatives to address huge medical expenses. On top of this additional strain on time, I am also reading and watching movies more while attempting to improve work in the office by using new techniques like Kanban. There are times when I am surprised by my own confidence, attributing my ease to ‘international’ experience, to wide reading and practice in Toastmaster. I have reached a point, after 5 decades on this earth, where one is consciously aware of his situation, perhaps achieving some sort of grace by dint of conscious learning and trials, avoiding the frivolity of youth except in periods of drunken excess. 50 is the new 30 as some would say, deducting 20 years from one’s real age due to improvements in technology and pharmaceuticals; chemicals providing advantage to one’s age while techniques like mind-mapping, meditation and journal writing help one self-actualize into the vision of himself. Aside from meeting the lawyer, I am meeting a financial adviser; he is the third consultant I met in my life (two in Singapore) who have helped understand financial planning. Hence, learning from others is important, too.

Summing up life lessons so far: one just needs to show up for work, to keep plugging away and apply the latest technology or learning to overcome challenges and difficulties, whether Tai Chi, meditation or yoga, mind mapping or Toastmaster, tablets, smartphones or computers, exercising, journal writing or blogging, Kanban or visual thinking. One needs to be intuitive, trusting his gut to navigate through work and politics, though age does constrain but experience is an advantage that overcomes any limitations. Hence, acting one’s age, with planning and will, with confidence to keep plugging along, to throw caution to the wind as one has limited time left (as compared to a 20 year old). Crossing into middle age (though one is unlikely to live to a 100), focuses the mind towards the last lap, where the emphasis is on training people left behind; one’s children, nephews or nieces, to try to set-up a better world for them, no more self-serving efforts; but to keep having new experiences to remain vital and relevant instead of an old doddering fool. One discovers the revolutionary battles in the Carolinas, visiting the numerous reenactments in state parks; discovering Canada and the moon and the planets. Don’t forget a drink of vodka or wine is good once and a while, too.

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