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How Image Influences Our Lives

In our society, which has become more dominated by screens, image is a big deal. It’s not just the realm of celebrities, performers, and athletes these days. Image affects all of us in today’s world. How we portray our lives and selves to others can become such an influential part of daily living that it can affect how we treat our bodies, health, and those close to us. Image can impact both physical and mental health in ways that can eventually lead to chronic health issues and take us farther away from what we want in life.

What is image? Image is typically what we want others to see despite what we’re feeling underneath or what is truly going on in our lives. We all have an image, and that in and of itself is not a bad thing. Image, or persona, can help create healthy boundaries between ourselves and our environments, including other people. That bit of distance helps us have space and privacy where we need it. Everyone doesn’t need to know everything. What becomes dangerous is when image evolves into more of a lie that we start believing even when we’re alone.

We may want to believe that we’re perfect, and try to show that to others instead of facing fears that are surfacing. These days, you may also notice social and media-induced peer pressure to show happiness to ourselves and to the world, even when we’re feeling sad, angry, disappointed, or some other feeling instead. The idea of image can then start to encroach on personality and even become who we are to some extent, often to the detriment of our physical and mental health. The pull to be immune and safe in this world using an artificial image is something each person goes through at times.

Image is a tool that can be helpful in the roles we play at work and in life, when it is mostly in tune with who we are already. When it instead plays a more suppressive role in blocking out real emotions, thoughts, and expressions of who we are, it can also harm the natural rhythm of our health, hormones, neurotransmitters, and personalities. It can become a cage in which we live with our unacknowledged fears and emotions.

The price of image overtaking who we are can be costly. Yet, it’s okay to admit this and honestly look at what image you’re showing to others, and ultimately to yourself. We live in a culture where image too easily becomes everything, and many people are dissatisfied with this way of living. Even when image affects health and stifles life, it can still be an addictive thing to pursue. However, if you remind yourself of what you really want in life, it can become easier to see how the image you’re portraying might be blocking that. And then you can ask, what benefit is image really bringing to your life?

What influence do you notice image is having on the world around you, and more importantly in your life? You know who you are inside, so what price are you willing to pay for image?

Your Health and Social Dynamics

A patient who had Crohn’s Disease came to see me in my natural health practice a few years back, and I was shocked by his honesty in answering one of my intake questions. I do a homeopathic interview with each patient, and if you’re unfamiliar with what that involves, I have to mention that there are some unique questions that come up during homeopathy.

The question I asked my patient was, “What are your pet peeves?” Without skipping a beat, he answered “people.” He laughed for a second after answering, but he was also serious. I went on to find out how different people in his life had betrayed his trust over the years and how his chronic health condition had started right after some family drama. Each time he reentered this same environment, his symptoms would flare up.

Was my patient inviting drama into his life? I would hardly describe him as drama-seeking. As it turned out, he offered his candid insight into a sentiment that I heard echoed in my practice from a variety of other patients over time, and which each of us can relate to.

I noticed in practice that chronic symptoms would start or get worse after challenging social situations. Whether someone was dealing with acne, weight gain, hormone imbalance, trouble sleeping, anxiety, digestive complaints, or headaches, based on my experience I had to ask about any existing stress and social experiences that may have been related to that stress.

Patient lab results kept showing hormone and neurotransmitter levels that backed up what I was hearing from health histories. Cortisol is a stress-triggered hormone that is released from the adrenal glands. When someone described that their energy felt drained around family, friends, or work-related drama, I would frequently see cortisol deficiency. When I told a patient about the results, they were hardly ever surprised. They seemed to understand on an instinctual level that suppressive, controlling, or judgmental influences in their lives were in fact affecting their health. After discussing these factors out in the open, people were able to take a more honest approach to their social lives and experience better health over time.

I started to wonder, why won’t mainstream health care look at the connection between chronic illness and social influences? Meanwhile, we are typically open to exploring the effects of so many other external and internal environmental factors on our health: Pollutants, toxins, gluten, lactose, free radicals, carbon footprints, preservatives, xenoestrogens, parabens, pharmaceutical drugs, processed foods, global warming, allergens, sugar, caffeine, butter, junk food, unfiltered water—phew! I know there are other suspected culprits that I’ve missed. At a certain point, it seems like we are focusing on the details of our physical environments—both inwardly and externally—in the hopes of avoiding a more difficult challenge that is ailing health.

What exactly is born from unhealthy social dynamics that negatively impacts our health?

It is the messages—spoken, or implied by anyone who disrespects and unfairly judges us—that can become internalized and then affect health. These messages can strongly influence how we see ourselves, take care of ourselves, and ultimately manage our own health. The messages sprout from the perfect image that society employs to stamp out individuality and character; the unrealistic expectations we are taught to pursue; and the pressure to do and be for others at the expense of ourselves.

Whenever these messages take hold of the body and are not processed or dealt with honestly, they remain “undigested” in a way, and the body’s systems get derailed in the process. The adrenal glands call on their forces of fight-or-flight molecules, the immune system gets involved in defense and surveillance around people, and the neuro-endocrine system (made up of the neurotransmitters and hormones in the body) becomes disrupted.

Social interaction can of course be a healthy and supportive influence in our lives too. In this case, you often find people giving each other the space to be who they are and to grow as people. You will see the mutual respect of people rooting each other on in life. Most importantly, people who interact with each other in a healthier way are more aware of their insecurities and fears and therefore don’t make a habit of taking these feelings out on others. It’s great to have people like this in our lives, and I’ve seen from my patients and personal experience how refreshing and valuable these interactions can be.

Not all social spheres share these qualities, however, and it’s helpful to recognize this dynamic too. When social messages trigger symptoms, the effect is usually bigger than what something like gluten or an allergen could exert on its own.

We may be living with social stress that we’re not even aware of. Unhealthy aspects of socializing can become “normal,” because society encourages people to be extroverts and social all the time, regardless of how we’re really feeling. Turn on a T.V. commercial or sitcom and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You’re supposed to tuck away your real reactions in favor of positive and “cool” responses. Suppressed feelings over the long-term is what leads patients to my naturopathic office more than anything else.

Harmful messages we may hear from those we know (or society) are good at convincing us to turn on and betray ourselves. That is why they affect our health so much, because they can easily use our own minds against us. These messages affect everyone on some level, regardless of who you are. However, sometimes people are drawn toward and align with the messages so strongly that they are taken far away from themselves. In these situations, a person often seeks to take out how they are truly feeling underneath on others. The message perpetuates itself from person to person. What is the main point of the message being touted? You are wrong for being who you are.

Why don’t we look at the relationship between social dynamics and health more closely in our society? There is no concrete evidence of the connection from research being done today. There is no drug that can fix this, and no money to be made from being honest about it. In fact, it’s not in society’s best interest to take a look at this.

Society runs on people feeling like they are wrong for being who they are.

So, what can we do for our health with these influences all around us? There is no easy remedy or answer to this question. However, we can be more honest with ourselves when we’re feeling mistreated and are told to believe that someone else knows us better than we know ourselves. No matter which insults someone speaks or implies; judgments they make about your character or worth; or declarations they have regarding who you are, your body and mind are equipped to let you know that the message itself is wrong–not you. Chronic symptoms can be a wake up call, but of course it can be scary at first to listen to what the body is really trying to communicate to us.

If we pay close attention to the body and what it’s relaying using symptoms, we can understand that health is not about perfect diets, hours spent at the gym, natural or pharmaceutical treatments, zen-like meditation, avoidance of gluten, or any other solution out there. It’s about living your own life and taking care of yourself, and it involves standing up to anyone who tells you it’s a crime to do so. It’s about remembering what you want even when surrounded by naysayers or people who don’t care. And it’s about acknowledging and facing, if only to yourself, social influences that may be interfering with your health.

In today’s world, we can’t hold the social sphere as sacred and above reproach when it comes to seeking better health and relief from chronic symptoms. Drugs are not going to do the trick. Neither are supplements. Keeping our eyes open in the face of harmful social messages will help the most, even when we’re being pressured to close our eyes to what’s really happening. There is no medical language that helps us talk about how social dynamics can affect health on a chronic and pervasive level. It’s up to the individual in each of us to summon the courage to face this challenge in our own lives first. Health is an innate potential we’re born with, and it’s worthwhile to stand up for it no matter who’s around. Someone once told me to block out the noise and keep doing what I’m doing. At the end of the day, that might be the best tool we have.

Sharing Is Caring, but so Is Wanting

The story goes that when I was a toddler and my brother was born, I tried to throw him out of my Swing-o-matic because it was mine. I’ve heard this memory retold countless times, and rather than feeling like it’s being shared as a funny tale, the deeper meaning seemed to be, “she doesn’t like to share, and she never did.” Oh no – I thought when first hearing about my actions – other kids are born with a sharing nature, but I was the exception because I didn’t feel that generosity toward my own baby brother! What kind of a person am I?!

Lately, I’ve been reconsidering the “sharing is caring” adage, thanks to my two-and-a-half-year-old son. Read the rest at Parent.co.

Review of “The Adventures of Lola” by Jade Harley (author) and Craig Phillips (Illustrator)

The Adventures of LolaThe Adventures of Lola by Jade Harley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Children’s books about protecting the environment or other serious issues can at times be a put off, because they’re too, well, serious. I enjoyed reading about Lola’s adventures toward protecting her home because the story was imaginative, fun, humorous, and magical all rolled up in one book. The author and illustrator worked together to create a movie-like quality to the book that kids will enjoy. This is also the type of children’s book that a kid can read alone or with an adult. There are more lessons inside than just about the environment, the book is also rooting you on to be an individual, follow your instincts, don’t let doubt rule your life, and give your unique abilities and talents a chance. Because, you never know! You could make a difference in your life and your environment like Lola does. I would recommend this book to parents and kids alike. I think girls might even want to be Lola for Halloween!

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Advice That I Will Never Give a New Mom

“Cherish every moment.” This little phrase haunted me since the birth of my first baby a couple of years ago. Now, I have two babies and the words still follow me around from time to time, but the scary howling from them is not as intense.

I thought at first that it was well-meaning advice, something that I would soon come to relish as my credo of motherhood. Of course, seasoned moms would tell me to cherish every moment! Based on their experiences, they wouldn’t want a new mom like me to take parenting for granted because it goes by so fast and kids eventually grow up.

I know now how I truly feel about it all – and I would never tell another new mom to cherish every moment.

Read the rest of this article here at Parent.co. Please pass it along to new moms! 🙂

Review of “The Evolution of Medicine” by James Maskell

The Evolution of Medicine by James Maskell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I certainly hope that the future of medicine does not end up looking like Uber or CrossFit, like James proposes in his book. The Evolution of Medicine, which isn’t written by a doctor but rather someone based in the field of economics, felt like an evangelical sales pitch to me. In a nutshell, the book puts functional medicine and technology up on a pedestal, while it simultaneously and repeatedly tries to sell his product: the Functional Forum. Micropractices in medicine have indeed made strides in a creative and patient-centered approach to healthcare–like James mentions–and technology has helped make small practices run more smoothly and efficiently for both practitioner and patient. There is cool and innovative stuff happening out there in private practices run by brave health care providers. But this book felt like it was marketing a utopia of healthcare for us docs that can only be attained by first purchasing the Functional Forum. It also kept repeating that the goal is not to cultivate celebrity doctors, while it had fun name dropping tons of celebrity doctors. I know that these doctors are pioneers, but I cringe when anyone tells me as a doctor to “be like him” or “be like her.” I would have preferred to read firsthand accounts from these docs of how they set up a practice, in other words through a collaboration with the author in writing this book.

Finally, there was a quote in the book from a Chinese medical text that says: “The superior doctor prevents sickness; the mediocre doctor attends to impending sickness; the inferior doctor treats actual sickness.” I treat actual sickness, because lots of people are sick these days. I don’t consider myself to be inferior. In fact, that quote would discount the whole functional medicine field as inferior, because I’m sure they’re inundated with treating many chronic conditions (as the author mentions himself). There are helpful tidbits in here, but the book would have been better as a collaboration with different health providers sharing their journeys in starting private practice. Whether it’s functional medicine, conventional medicine, lifestyle medicine, naturopathic medicine or some other related field, we always run the risk of looking too closely under the microscope of what’s happening in the body and missing the forest for the trees. Maybe the mindset of doctors needs to change before their practices do. Sometimes we can act like we have all the answers and are just being such good people for providing a service that patients are actually paying for. Of course it can be a rewarding and fulfilling service to provide on so many levels, but it’s also inherently a tough one both personally and professionally for all walks of practitioners. That being said, my favorite part about the book was when James described the direct primary care model of healthcare along with cooperative-style care. That is something I would want to get involved with.

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Review of “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” by Dinesh D’Souza

The Roots of Obama's RageThe Roots of Obama’s Rage by Dinesh D’Souza
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dinesh is an amazing thinker in today’s world, with the sleuthing skills of Nancy Drew combined with the caring of someone who really respects himself, the human race, and our futures. Over the last eight years, I’ve felt a palpable pressure to “give up” spreading throughout society and thanks to Dinesh’s book, I know better the source of it. The political figurehead of Obama who led our country was not encouraging any better for the people of the U.S. or for the world. He tried to propel us backward in every imaginable and covert way. With a ton of research, digging, and predictive hypotheses, Dinesh spells out why we’ve had a sinking sensation when thinking about the future. He also unveils what Obama did behind the scenes. Actually, that’s inaccurate for me to say–Obama did much of it in front of our faces, but he just presented his actions as benevolent rather than malevolent. As a naturopathic doctor, I’ve seen Obama’s influence lead to a rise in rates of chronic illness, anxiety, and depression in my office. But you don’t have to be a doctor to diagnose what a lot of us have been feeling. Please read Dinesh’s book, it’s medicine for the spirit.

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Review of “Detour From Normal” by Ken Dickson

Detour from NormalDetour from Normal by Ken Dickson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This eye opening memoir taught me that mania can be an extreme and life disrupting phenomenon and that it can have triggers related to pharmaceuticals. The world already feels so manic, so I doubt modern society helps people who are suffering from manic episodes. I like how the author interwove his personal and medical experiences and spoke with an honest voice about his and others’ reactions to what he went through. Sounds scary. A more integrative approach would help the mental health field as the author suggests, because right now it sounds like it’s missing the most obvious treatment method: real communication. Though a medical intervention was life-saving in the story, Detour is a good warning about having your health in the hands of mainstream medicine for too long.

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Review of “The Old Man and the Princess” by Sean-Paul Thomas

The Old Man and the PrincessThe Old Man and the Princess by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is unique in its approach of not pigeonholing itself into one genre, and you’ll definitely want to know how it ends because of such an unpredictable plot!

Who’s the old man, and who’s the princess? And how much do the characters themselves know who they are along the course of the story? The story has a metaphor in there and you’ll find out what it all means by the end of the book. On a side note, I laughed my a** off at some of the Irish-style banter, I mean I really laughed harder than I have in a long time. Tears were streaming down my face, you can ask those who were in the room with me at the time I was reading. And of course, I had to read the dialogue out loud to them too, I just had to share it. I didn’t know what “jacksie” means or “egit,” and the characters sprinkling these words into their dialogue made me like them more. There’s a magical quality to this story throughout the suspense, which you won’t find in many books these days. It was unassuming and sweet.

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Review of “The Professor” by Robert Bailey

The Professor (McMurtrie and Drake Legal Thrillers, #1)The Professor by Robert Bailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has heart and you can tell from the writing that Bailey put much care and thought into developing the characters and plot. It’s a smart book. I felt like I was watching an exciting movie from beginning to end, a unique legal thriller with the feel of an inspiring sports film. I like how the author didn’t try and make the characters awkwardly “cool” and didn’t overstate the message of the book. The best part of the book is that it roots on the fighting spirit in each main character, and even one of their dogs 🙂 Bailey’s characters are real and human, qualities that are refreshing in a book’s cast, yet ones that I don’t always find in our “be more, do more” society. I’m usually a slow reader, but I didn’t take long to read this one and definitely recommend it.

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