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It’s all in the mind

Jan. 19, 2010

Whoever came up with the phrase "It's all in the mind" was a genius! Over the years I have read numerous self-help articles on positive thinking and came across even a larger number of websites entirely devoted to this cloudy concept. Such articles have always given me laughs until few weeks back when I had to write a hard-core research paper on self-rated health.


For introduction, self-rated health is one of the items on Short-Form-36 Health Survey (SF36) which asks the respondent to rate his/her health on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being excellent and 5 being poor. The SF36 survey was developed in US in 1980s. Today it is available in more than 50 languages including Hindi,Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu. It is easy to administer and used in different care settings to assess the health status of the individual across the world.


The item that makes SF36 a celebrity of health assessment surveys is Self-Rated Health (SRH). Studies after studies have established SRH to be a reliable predictor of mortality, more than the physical measures themselves. SRH is a subjective assessment of how an individual perceives his health and quality of life. When people are young and strong, their 'actual' health correlates strongly with their 'perceived' health. With age those gray hairs and joint pains kick in, the ‘actual’ health declines. However, 'perceived' health keeps going strong.


There are a number of theories that help explain the gap between the 'actual' and 'perceived' health. Almost all of them draw inspirations from how people think. Some say that older adults develop coping mechanisms over time and report better health while others say that reporting better health is an explicit way for them to fight ageist stereotypes that associate weak with old and frail with elderly. The magic kicks in when reporting better health in face of illness or old-age acts like a protective shield that adds years to lives of these older adults.


Another interesting theory suggests that we are more likely to report better health upon comparison with others around us. According to this approach people who report better health report so because they only look at measures where they are better than others. Such individuals sub-consciously filter the bad stuff out and live longer.


Other factors that influence health perceptions include occupation and religious attitudes. The work that you do for most part of your career influences how you see your health and not just when you are in that job but well into old age, long after you have resigned or retired. People who enjoy what they do are less likely to develop issues related to prestige or authority at their work place and report better health throughout their life.


Moving along, a welcoming attitude towards religion and participation in communal spiritual activities promote social networks and enhance one's sense of overall well-being. People who are involved in religious meetings develop strong support networks through mutual faith in a greater being. These friends help them maintain a positive attitude towards health despite illness or disability.


Summing it up, all these little things that seem like make-believe pretentions in fact improve your perception towards health and add extra years to your life. So please pretend, compare, love your work, make plenty of friends and live long!


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