Dr Tom Mulholland: What does wellbeing really mean?

Know how to escape unhealthy emotions.
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Know how to escape unhealthy emotions.

On a recent ambo trip we tested a road crew in the middle of the Ureweras, for diabetes, heart disease and lung damage due to smoking.

I asked them what wellbeing meant for them. After a long pause, the reply came: "being well".

One of the most important components of "being well" is having the tools to escape unhealthy emotions such disappointment, anger and frustration. Hard to do when the amygdala (grumpy unit in your brain) is in full flight or fight mode, sending unhealthy chemicals coursing through your arteries.


Dr Tom Mulholland, on a mission to turn around the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.

Now you may not know you have a grumpy unit, you may think you have married one, and work with a few (and vice versa) but the amygdala is our inbuilt alarm centre in our brain. It's been there in evolutionary terms for tens of millions of years, where the rational part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex has been around for less than a million years.

We all know that feeling when our emotional brain hijacks or rational brain, often in full flight. It's designed to protect us, but with alarms going off every minute with emails, traffic, mortgages and kids, it's no wonder we are stressed, our body is dialled up ready to fight or flight.

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We can disengage the grumpy unit and control our emotions rather than them controlling you. To do this you have to understand that what you think, controls how you feel. If you want to change how you feel, just change what you think. It's upstream. If you are not angry now, you have to think of something to make you angry.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life helping people from all walks of life learn to control their emotions. It's been an amazing journey. I developed these tools after a series of personal disasters.

As I write in my book Healthy Thinking, "It was the first light I had seen at the end of a tunnel that wasn't a train" when I discovered I could finally escape my unhealthy emotions.

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Ninety per cent of the thoughts that make you feel bad are not actually true, your emotional brain has hijacked your rational brain.

If someone cuts you off in the traffic, you get angry. Why? You're probablythinking they are being disrespectful, so you blame their character and may act in a dangerous way. If you cut someone off you blame the situation.

If your partner/spouse is late home from work you may think they don't care. If you are late home, you blame the workload.

An important first step is to separate thoughts from emotions. Ask yourself: What am I thinking? Then: Is the thought true? Does it help me achieve my goal? Is it worth it?

If you get no to any one of those questions, it's unhealthy thinking, so change it. If the answer is yes to all of the questions then your stress or disappointment is healthy. You can do something about it, like changing the situation that is causing the emotion.

It takes practice like any skill, but it's worth it.

There are, of couse, other factors that come in to it - even the Dalai Lama would get stressed if you gave him an Auckland house mortgage, traffic, three kids and a partner who had to work two jobs. Or 300 dairy cows in the muddy Waikato, or a drought stricken sheep and beef farm in North Canterbury.

The key to "being well", is being tuned in to your thoughts, emotions and actions and know how to escape them. It will change your life. 

 - Sunday Star Times


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