In 1982 I met Nick Tauraso, an author and M.D., through my first job after college for an educational film company. Way back then he ran a wellness camp for kids. My boss, who made films about holistic health, was intrigued by this, so we went to the camp outside of Baltimore to film it.
Dr. Tauraso introduced me to a lot of things that seemed crazy at the time. He would awaken at 4 AM and meditate for two hours each day. He told me he’d suffered from “cluster migraine” headaches and this meditation practice had cured him of this debilitating health problem. He wouldn’t allow the kids in his camp
to have Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with sugar and milk, because he said it wasn’t healthy. (This was a radical notion at the time.) He told me eating broccoli and other vegetables could possibly prevent cancer (which was even more radical).
I remember asking him where he ate when he traveled. There was no such thing as heart healthy items on a menu and health-food restaurants were few and far between. He said he could always find a salad for dinner or lunch, but breakfast was trickier. His go-to option in a pinch was IHOP! He said they had “buckwheat
pancakes” on the menu which he could eat without the phony syrup.
But the most important thing Dr. Tauraso did for me on that short visit was to give me a copy of a book he had written about stress. This subject immediately fascinated me. As I delved further into it, I learned that while Dr. Tauraso’s ideas about wellness were nowhere near to being embraced by the mainstream medical community, that same community was beginning to embrace the subject of stress.
Hans Selye, the Canadian scientist who coined the term stress, had paved the way for this general acceptance by writing over 1700 peer-reviewed articles that had been published in respected medical journals since the 1930’s.
So, the 1970’s and early 1980’s was a heady time for the subject stress. Back then stress was the explanation given for the occurrence of most stomach ulcers. It was an explanation given for the dramatic rise in heart attacks occurring mostly in men (The Type A Personality). It was the brand-new explanation for the mysterious mental health problems being suffered by Vietnam Vets long after the war. (PTSD) And, even though two out of three of these medical explanations would eventually fall out of favor, in the early 1980’s stress medicine, or psychosomatic medicine as it was called back then, was clearly on the rise.
Despite the fact that these terms were, for the most part, accepted by the mainstream medical community there were still problems. When I started making films about stress, you couldn’t mention words like mindfulness or meditation or even yoga. These were Eastern practices that seemed threatening to most
Westerners. (And to a much smaller extent, still do today.) And there was a major problem with the general public’s understanding of the term psychosomatic. They took this term to mean that a psychosomatic health problem wasn’t real: that it was all in your head.
How this issue was solved and why Type A behavior and stress fell out of favor as an possible explanation for ulcers will be the subject of my next blog.
The WELCOA conference is suggesting that wellness programs move in a new direction. In my mind no one addressed this point better than Jim Purcell, formerly of Rhode Island Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the founder of the Returns on Wellbeing Institute. He says you have to change the culture from the top down. "No matter how good the program is it will fail in a toxic culture. The key to happiness in the workplace boils down to two simple elements. Having work that you love to do in a place where you love to do it."