I’m positively healthy, thank you very much.

Anchal Sood

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Allergic rhinitis.

No, that’s not a rhinoceros with a skin infection. It’s just a fancy word for what I and mllions of others suffer from; an allergy to dust, pollen and/or a ton of perfumes; with symptoms similar to that of a chronic cold. Although it does make it difficult to walk through a field of flowers, an active construction site or the Lush store at the mall, it’s honestly quite manageable. The stash of medicines I always carry around helps, of course.

Sometimes when I’m late taking an Allegra, or when I have to clean out the dusty pile of old books I have in the basement, the allergies come for me mercilessly and there’s nothing I can do but wait for the medicines to kick in. My head throbs, my nose tickles, my eyes itch and water, I sneeze constantly, and of course, there’s all that mucous; in its varied hues and textures.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern. I find myself getting increasingly more and more ill when the allergic reaction is accompanied by a bad mood. Now, when I say bad mood, I mean I’d snap at everyone around me, at everything around me, get none of my work done, and drown in my self-pity (apart from the aforementioned bodily fluids, I mean). On the other hand, a good mood accompanying the sneezes has seen me through important presentations (with the sniffling kept to a minimum) and large family functions (with my smiles brightening up pictures rather than my faintly red nose). It seems as if the good mood is linked to the faster recovery, doesn’t it?

Subconsciously, I think I’ve used this knowledge to my advantage for as long as I can remember. When I have an important deadline to meet the next day and I have a slight sniffle, I choose not to think about it, take the necessary precautions, keep telling myself that’s it’s nothing, and soon it’s gone. When my sinuses hurt while I’m staring at my laptop screen, trying to get the latest report done, I take a break, keep my spirits up, do something that makes me happy, and more often that not, I come back to it feeling tons better. Simple but genius, don’t you think? It’s as if my mind has this power to converse with the allergies, and tell it to pack up and leave. And the greater will with which I hope it, the easier it is to do.

When I first consciously realised the beauty of positive emotions in health, I thought I had made a groundbreaking discovery. I could almost imagine my name in the papers. All the people I’ll help! All the money I’ll make! My dreams were soon shattered, however, with the help of my friend Google. Turns out, a bunch of people discovered all of it before me. So much for that vacation house in Goa.

For example, Barbara Frederickson put forth the Broaden and Build Theory of positive emotions, which states that positive emotions tend to broaden the manner in which one approaches difficult situations, through novel and varied thoughts; while on the other hand, negative emotions tend to narrow one’s view, such as in the case of frustration and stress and lead to survival oriented behaviour. That’s probably why I’d get so cranky.

Research conducted as part of Barbara Frederickson’s work supports this connection, stating that positivity quickens the recovery process, betters sleep and results in fewer cases of colds, immunity deficiencies and allergies. Even those suffering from more severe illnesses and ailments may find use in a positive outlook accompanying their medical treatment.

Another related longitudinal research was conducted recently, in 2013 by Bethany Kok et al, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science. It turns out physical health, positive social connections and positive emotions all influence one another in an ‘upward spiral’ manner, where each one acts as a stepping stone for the other.

Hmph. If only I’d have had my epiphany a few years earlier. It would have been Anchal Sood’s theory that people would be reading about. I’m absolutely positive.