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Developing healthy mindset in season of disease outbreaks

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It does seem that humanity is seriously caught up in a flood of unbridled misfortune and malevolence, anarchy and anomie, plagues and pestilences. The bridge of time between calamitous events in our globe has become shortened from daily to hourly occurence. Before we recover from one sorrowful event, another one quickly occurs. In our globe today, evil seems to engage its various dimensions in severe competitions against the soul of Homo sapiens.

Take the case of the recent outbreak of diseases as an example. Since late last year here in Nigeria, we have been battling against Lassa fever. Also known as Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), it is an endemic zoonotic( animal borne) viral disease. Presently, it is common in West African countries like, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra leone and Nigeria. The symptoms include, fever, weakness, headaches, vomiting as well as muscular pains. Other rare symptoms include, bleeding from the mouth or gastrointestinal tract.

Coincidently, Lassa fever was discovered in 1969 and the commonest channel of infection is contact with rodents. Prevention from the disease is by avoiding contact with mastomys rodents(multimammate rats). This is the reason for encouraging the habit of regular hand washing. The annual estimated rate of infection is between 100,000 to 300,000 with an estimated annual death rate of 5000.

Then enters Coronavirus, the recent messenger of death. As the name suggests, it is a group of viruses that cause diseases in birds and mammals. The symptoms of this disease in human beings include, fever, swelling of throat adenoids and of course pains. Coronavirus can also cause pneumonia,acute respiratory syndrome and bronchitis. Presently, there exist seven strains of human coronavirus.

Coronavirus was first reported in 1960. It affects both animals and human beings. Late last year, 2019, there was an outbreak of coronavirus in China and already, several hundreds of death have been recorded from this recent disease outbreak.

The huge challenge before us as individuals and as governments is to first develop the right mindset against this lethal pestilence. First, we need to set our minds on developing preventive measures against the disease. On individual levels, we need to improve our personal hygiene habits. From maintaining regular daily baths to hand washing, wearing clean dresses, tidying our homes and environments and making sure that they are not conducive for rodents and viruses to inhabit and hibernate.

It will be useful to fumigate our environments as we maintain efficient waste disposal systems. Obviously there has to exist a certain degree of cooperation between the individuals and governments so that the disposal of wastes would be carried out efficiently.

The government at various levels should engage in appropriate health-care enlightenment and educational campaigns to help the citizenry to escape from the scourge of these perilous pestilences. Again, the government should update and upgrade the facilities in our hospitals as well as ensure that there are enough qualified medical personnel to handle emergencies. This measure will restore the faith of the citizenry both in the government and our health-care delivery system.

Equally, it is the duty of the government to ensure that the country’s borders are medically secured. In other words, those coming into or going out of the country undergo proper medical screening so that these new outbreaks of diseases wouldn’t find their way into any part of the country. This is a crucial precautionary measure against the onset and spread of infectious diseases like Lassa fever and coronavirus. We need the expertise, courage and urgency which the government, medical teams and ordinary Nigerians employed to fight and win the war against ebola disease a few years back to win the war against these current outbreak of dangerous diseases. Our minds must be made up to overcome all obstacles.

Fundamentally, people should protect their mind against negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, worry and evil imagination. The reason being that the state of one’s mind significantly affects the health of the body. This is the logic behind psychosomatic medicine. The challenge is how can one develop or maintain an healthy mind in a world filled with negative, bad and evil news? How can one face all the barrage of disease onslaught around the environment and still remain sane?

Studying inspirational literature is one healthy strategy, which can enable an individual to handle such barrage of evil news. Biographies, Autobiographies, and testimonials of individuals and communities who overcame extreme harsh and hellish conditions will be of help in this season of anarchy and absurdities. One remembers such great books like, Nelson Mandela’s ‘ Long Walk to Freedom’, Nnamdi Azikiwe’s ‘My Oddessy’, Richard Wumbrand’s ‘ In Underground Prison’, Norman Vincent Peale’s ‘ The Tough Minded Optimist’. Such books are of immense help in building up the mind against discouragement, desperation and destitution.

Some research studies have implicated the crucial role of emotions in determining the health of the immune system. In one of such studies, Richard Davidson, the leader of a study group at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the USA, reported that the prefrontal cortex (PFC), was associated with depression. Experimental subjects who had the significant activities in their right PFC who were directed to concentrate on negative and distressing life experiences during the study had lower antibody levels while those who showed similar significant activities in their left PFC while remembering positive and rewarding experiences, developed high antibody levels. Furthermore, Martin Seligman, a strong proponent of Positive Psychology, noted that’ When it comes to our health, there are essentially four things under our control: the decision not to smoke, a commitment to exercise, the quality of our diet and level of optimism. And optimism is at least as beneficial as the others’. Optimism is another term for happiness, which is a positive emotion.

Consequently, it is part of our personal responsibility to develop as well as maintain a positive mindset. Like someone rightly said, life is ten percent of what happens to us and ninety of how we respond to it. Each of us has the inner capacity to weather through tough times, breakthrough horrendous difficulties, successfully go through the storms of life and come out better. This is the reason why our minds must be fixed on nobility, virtue and goodness. One side of the law of attraction opines that like attracts like. It is akin to the law of sowing and reaping. Let your mind be fixed on good health, victory, success and blessings. Obviously, the body will follow the pull of the mind.

The mindset that would pull through the pestilences and diverse troubles of this season is one that believes and practices the golden rule. Take the issue of cleanliness as an example. Practising personal hygiene and refusing to get involved in your neighbour’s or community’s hygiene regimen would be counter- productive. Many diseases are infectious, including both lassa fever and coronavirus. Being insensitive to the health status of our neighbours may cause much harm to us. The converse is true too.

Consistent with Dr. Seligman’s earlier statement about the four right attitudes of healthy living; namely; refusing to smoke, exercising, eating balanced diet and maintaining an optimistic attitude regularly. In spite of the financial challenges of this period, one who desires to be healthy needs to pay close attention to this quality piece of advice. Particularly, the issue of maintaining a balanced diet may be fiercely contested. Yet, prevention is better than cure. It is better to build up immunity against disease than to treat it. Most often, the cost of maintaining a balanced diet is cheaper than paying medical bills. It is basically an issue of mindset which is based on the level of education and enlightenment one has.

I end this discourse by encouraging the reader to engage in regular meditation. This has to do with setting out a definite time to engage in personal reflection. It is a time of deep thinking, consideration of ideas, philosophy, worldview and how to navigate the challenges of life successfully. Meditation involves deep thinking and of necessity requires focusing on thoughts and concentration. Presently, there are several techniques of meditation, but every body can begin at one point and thereafter make progress. Combined with inspirational materials and effectual praying, the result is normally significantly positive. In the words of Marcus Aurelius, I remind you that, ‘ You have power over your mind- not outside events. Realise this and you will find strength’. May you find strength indeed to overcome all the onslaughts of diseases, dangers and distresses in this season and beyond.

• Dr. Passy Amaraegbu, Clinical Psychologist and Author lives in Lagos.


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