Anyone who has ever watched a James Bond movie has seen the dashing secret agent confront hair-raising dangers, get chased by very bad guys with lethal weapons, face life-threatening moments, and then brush it off, grab the girl and hop on a yacht in the blue waters.

If only everyone could handle the effects of stress with the same aplomb.

Bond’s character, of course, is one of fiction. When it comes to facts about emotional stress, David Woodlock has a lot of them, and they’re not pretty. And the author, a former Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health, was talking about them well before the physical effects of COVID-19 put the world in an emotional funk.

In Emotional Dimensions of Healthcare, Woodlock calls America the ”land of anxiety.”

“In the United States, the wealthiest nation in human history, despite our incredible advances in medical technology and the massive amounts of money we spend on health care, we’ve hit a wall.”

Later, he continues: “The relentless pursuit of happiness is a characteristically American struggle. The problem is that this elusive prize is creating a nation of nervous wrecks.”

Whether from work, economic or social barriers, living environment, exposure to violence, relationships, or simply the pressure to thrive, never have Americans spent more on professional counsel, spiritual pundits, medications and self-help books. Yet the problems don’t go away.

Woodlock contends that negative emotional mindsets are manifesting themselves into physical symptoms and illnesses, a concept that goes back to Freud. While typical remedies might help in the short term, their lack of focus on the emotional aspect will continue to hold them back.

“Our health care system today tends to look askance at our emotions,” he claims. These emotions could have developed from childhood experiences, a traumatic event, daily stress or a number of sources. Often, while people understand a logical solution (eat less, exercise, do something productive, etc.), they fail to act because their emotions maintain a tight grip and pull them away.

“We have failed to connect the dots that make us human and influence the choices we make every day that all too often lead to illness.”

The book examines many efforts that have been made to take “a holistic approach” to health care in which the patient’s emotional history is crucial — some efforts, of course, more successful than others. The author scrutinizes the many forms that stress can take. He offers a fascinating discussion on fear, how people love to experience it on a temporary basis (a rollercoaster) but see it as a “survival mechanism” when confronted with true fear (a bear in the woods).

Woodlock also offers ideas for better health. Think of the book as “a roadmap to a new era of health care that can bring a renewal of both longevity and quality of life.” Sometimes it might be as simple as taking deep breaths, cutting out alcohol or quitting Facebook.

“We have the potential to put the power of our minds to influence our health back with the body. By honoring the role compensatory behaviors serve and by identifying new, healthy behaviors as replacements, we can improve people’s lives and rekindle their faith in medicine.”

… And maybe also give us just an ounce of Bond’s moxie?

Buy this book!

David Woodlock is President and CEO of ICL, an award-winning not-for-profit, human service agency. Prior to that he served for over thirty years in New York State government, including four years as a Deputy Commissioner of the NYS Office of Mental Health.