Can you heal any disease with your mind? The idea that healing emanates from the brain is often associated with pseudoscience – sometimes justifiably so.
Sure, cancer patients may not believe their way into health. Conversely, consider the alleviation of symptoms and the placebo effects that result from people taking mock drugs.
The body works in tandem in determining how some physical ailments manifest – but which conditions, and to what degree?
How Our Mind Impacts Our Symptoms
Your mental state has a massive sway on symptoms of disorders like depression, fatigue, nausea, and pain. For instance, when burn patients play virtual-reality games, their pain eases by up to 50 percent, which is more than what they experience with drugs alone.
Besides, research on placebos reveals that psychological factors like social interactions and expectations alleviate symptoms through biological changes similar to those that result from drugs.
Placebo painkillers spur the release of natural pain-alleviating chemicals referred to as endorphins. Parkinson’s patients experience the much-needed dopamine uptick after taking placebos. Also, breathing fake oxygen often reduces the levels of prostaglandins – which are the neurotransmitters that cause a lot of the altitude sickness symptoms.
Why Thoughts and Expectations Cause Similar Effects as Drugs
On the surface, it sounds nutty that thoughts and expectations would have the same effects as drugs, but what undergirds placebo effects is the simple fact that the symptoms we experience aren’t inevitable and direct consequences of the physical damage in our bodies.
Such damage is central, but ultimately the symptoms we experience are created and shaped by the brain. When you feel lonely or stressed, warning signs such as nausea, fatigue, and pain are amplified. When you feel cared for and safe (whether it’s by being surrounded by loved ones or getting what you believe to be adequate medical treatment), your symptoms are less severe.
One study found that IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) patients experienced greater relief from symptoms when the medical team treating them was empathic and warm rather than polite but cold, regardless of the course of therapy used in their treatment.
Patients with an acid reflux condition also did exceptionally better when they have a more extensive consultation (42 minutes) with their physician, rather than the 18-minute standard visit. In many other situations, from childbirth to back pain, patients’ outcomes are hinged not just on the prescribed medicine but also on how the care is delivered.
Our Brains Control our Physiological Functioning
So, can you heal yourself with your mind? Our physiological functions, from the immune to the digestive system, are controlled by our brains. Therefore, your mind doesn’t just shape your subjective experiences; it also impacts the progression of ailments. While you may not control many of these processes at whim, you can influence them through the ways you manage your response to stress.
For instance, when nervous, your heartbeat speeds up, it puts higher pressure on the cardiovascular system. Under normal circumstances, this isn’t an issue, but it can be dangerous or fatal in some cases.
Sometimes natural disasters like earthquakes cause as many fatalities from heart attacks as from crumbling rubble. Besides, studies show that during invasive medical procedures like the destruction of tumors and breast biopsies, patients who feel anxious or negative beforehand are more likely to suffer complications like high or low blood pressure, extended lack of oxygen, slowed heart rate, or postoperative bleeding.
Relaxation techniques, like visualizing a tranquil and safe place, hugely reduce anxiety and pain as well as the likelihood of complications during these procedures.
Stress also has a physical impact on the gut. If we don’t like toilet arrangements, we may not have bowel movements days. Conversely, facing a test, for instance, a competition or an exam can make us empty our bowels. The impact of stress on the gut aggravates some medical conditions like IBS. Trials show that these conditions can be effectively managed by teaching patients to calm their digestive system and tackle stress.
Treatments such as hypnotherapy diminish the gut’s sensitivity to pain, and hypnotized patients can change the rate at which their gut contracts, something that’s usually beyond our control.
How Stress Affects the Immune System
Stress triggers inflammation, which is part of the immune system. Inflammation is the body’s first shield against injury and infection.
While inflammation is useful during emergencies when continually triggered due to chronic stress, it interrupts healthy immune responses and wears away the body’s tissue; this makes us more vulnerable to auto-immune disease, allergies, and infections. And that doesn’t just translate to a few more colds or eczema flare-ups.
The effect of stress on the immune system can also accelerate the development of life-threatening ailments like HIV and MS (multiple sclerosis). Research on how stress management interventions can turn around these conditions is only in its initial stages. Still, preliminary evidence reveals that mindfulness meditation can slow the progression of HIV, and stress management therapy can slow MS.
Besides, evidence shows that the mind shapes how cancer progresses. Inflammation spurs blood vessel growth and clears damaged cells, which is vital for the healing of wounds, but this also provides the food supply, and the space tumors need to grow.
In animal studies, the spread of cancer is stimulated further by stress hormones. Patient trials reveal that stress-management therapies reduce inflammation.
So here is how to heal your mind body and soul:
1. Bolster the Effectiveness of your Treatment by Trusting they’ll Work
As we’ve already learned, overwhelming evidence shows that the placebo effect vastly impacts the effectiveness of treatments. If someone convinces you that a given pill cures headaches, you’re more likely to find it helpful – that’s even if the medicine is just a sugar pill.
Whether it’s a chiropractor who’s helping you with your back pain, or a physiotherapist working on your bad knee, your trust on the treatments is as important as the treatments themselves. Before you opt for a course of therapy, think of the many reasons why it’ll work.
2. Sleep Better by Counting Your Blessings – Keep a Gratitude Journal
If you’re battling with insomnia, keeping a gratitude journal can help sleep better. Several studies have established a link between gratitude and longer and higher quality sleep.
Before you slide into your sheets, identify and jot down three things you’re thankful for; do this daily. Bolstering feelings of gratitude just before you sleep makes it easier for you to find a good night’s sleep.
3. Live Longer by Finding and Focusing on a Life Purpose
Having a strong sense of purpose can lengthen your lifespan. Studies have consistently shown that people who see their lives as meaningful are likely to live longer and healthier lives,
Whether you find your purpose in your career or meaning in volunteering, ensure that whatever you do feels essential and purposeful. Having a deeply felt goal that gets you going every day might be the key to vitality and longevity.
4. Bolster Your Immunity by Being Optimistic
Multiple studies have shown that optimistic people are less vulnerable to sickness. For decades researchers hypothesized that this improvement in immunity was a result of optimistic people being more diligent in taking good care of their health.
But recent research shows that it’s the optimism that boosts immunity. Being able to see the silver lining makes you less susceptible to an infection or a cold because optimism optimizes your immune system.
5. Slow Aging and Heal Your Body and Mind through Meditation
Meditation helps shield the body from the damaging effects of stress. Multiple studies have found out that meditation slows aging at the cellular level. Meditation helps you remain youthful as well as wards off age-related ailments.
Besides, there is scientific proof that meditation boosts the brain’s essential chemicals like serotonin, endorphins, and GABA. When these crucial chemicals are low, you are likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Practicing meditation also enhances your body’s production of HGH (human growth hormone) and diminishes cortisol. Insufficient HGH is linked to heart problems, motivation issues, reduction of muscle mass, body fat retention, and more.
Reducing cortisol production, a hormone that reduces the effectiveness of the immune system, and other essential processes is also central to good health.
6. Ward Off Heart Disease by Maintaining a Sense of Humor
If you want to keep your heart healthy, laugh often. Research shows that laughter increases ‘good’ cholesterol, decreases stress hormones, and shrinks artery inflammation. Laugher’s positive effects last up to 24 hours, so laughter is indeed the best medicine.
Heal Your Body with Your Mind
While your mind can’t heal every ailment, our mental state has an enormous influence on our health, and it’s relevant even for severe health issues like multiple sclerosis, HIV, and cancer.
So your mind can be a great asset or a terrible enemy. Train your mind to help your body achieve its highest potential. Everyone can learn to be mentally resilient. By embracing these mental practices outlined above, you can learn how to heal with your mind – which is vital for a happier, healthier, and longer life.