Welcome to 2017 - a brand new year with a brand new blog!
I always get excited at the start of the year. A fresh, new year lying ahead of us just brimming with possibilities to turn into whatever we desire. Where will it take us? What will we achieve?
I have many, many plans for this year - one being to share some of the precious knowledge that I've accumulated over the last few years with as many people as possible!
Today we're starting at the beginning of my learning journey - an introduction to mind body connections...
Can our Minds really affect our Bodies?
"All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident" - Arthur Schopenhauer
The media seems to be increasingly aware of stories of people experiencing 'miracle recoveries' using nothing but their minds. Positive thinking, hope and the belief that they will recover is reported to have magical qualities, sometimes curing conditions that even modern medicine is unable to treat. (1)
Often these stories are not considered further, maybe taken for being just that – stories.
However, some scientists have decided not to dismiss these recoveries as fluke events but to find out how this could have happened. What enabled these people to recover without drugs or surgery? By finding the answer to this, surely they will also find the answer to how to enable others to do the same?
What has been discovered is a modern understanding of an ancient concept. A concept that has been scorned and pushed aside by modern medicine.
The concept is that of the mind body connection.
My discovery of Mind Body Connections
As an Occupational Therapist working in mainstream healthcare for 15 years, this was a whole new concept to me when I stumbled upon it. But the more I looked into it, and applied it to my own life and to that of my patients, the more it made sense.
After the birth of my first child, I struggled to adjust to motherhood. It was a really tough time emotionally, made worse by the fact that my body seemed to be falling to pieces! Recurrent infections, pains in my feet, hips and knees that seemed to come and go as they pleased, transient numbness in my hands, rashes – you name it, it felt like I had it. I somehow knew that these must be connected to my mental state and tried various complimentary medicines that looked at the whole body as one system but these had little effect.
It wasn't until I had counselling that I realised how much emotion I'd been bottling up. I was supported to deal with the emotions, my symptoms began to resolve and my life got back on track.
Since ancient times people have understood the intrinsic links between our minds and bodies. They knew that our thoughts, feelings and beliefs were significant, not only for keeping our minds healthy but also keeping us in good physical health.
Hippocrates, one of the most outstanding physicians in the history of medicine, knew 2400 years ago that a person’s personality, and therefore their mind, was just as significant to a condition as the diagnosis itself.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way this knowledge got lost.
Modern medical advances – the body as a machine
Actually, it got buried under the incredible discoveries of modern science. New diagnostic procedures allowed us to test things that had never been possible before and see things inside our bodies that had previously only been guessed at. The body became seen as a machine, to be mended, treated with chemicals or parts changed. Its relationship with the mind now seemed a silly superstition in light of this new, scientific research. It became a completely separate entity to the mind, as physical and psychological medicine became their own specialities – each becoming less and less understood by the other.
While the advances in science, and treatments as a result of this, are amazing, there are a whole host of conditions that seem somewhat of a puzzle. Conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain conditions and food intolerances are on the increase and modern medicine doesn't seem to have the answers as to why this may be or how to treat them.
The missing link in the puzzle? The Mind.
The mind body connection
Our minds are the control centres for our bodies. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in our bodies - even breathing, digestion and immune system function - without our minds giving the orders.
The fact that our mind and emotions impact our bodies is something we're all aware of without even realising. If you've ever experienced any of these things then you know how strong the link is between our emotions and our bodies!
Have you ever:
Felt sick when feeling frightened?
Felt energised when feeling happy?
Cried when feeling sad?
Had a head-ache when feeling tense?
Had butterflies in your tummy when feeling nervous?
Blushed when feeling embarrassed?
Trembled with fear?
Had shoulder or neck ache when feeling 'stressed'?
It is generally accepted that these very real physical changes are caused by feeling an emotion.
Scientists agree with the hippies!
The concept of our thoughts or feelings having any influence over our bodies or health feels a bit hippy, a bit 'out there'. But it's not just the hippies that are saying it now – the scientists are jumping on board too!
Scientists, specialising in psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI, have taken this a step further and studied the relationships between our minds and our bodies.
Definition of psychoneuroimmunology taken from Merriam-Webster Dictionary
1. a branch of medicine that deals with the influence of emotional states (as stress) and nervous system activities on immune function especially in relation to the onset and progression of disease
There is now a wealth of research that shows that our minds interact with our bodies.
Some of the findings are:
- When rats were given a mixture of saccharine-water and a drug to suppress their immune system function, as expected, they developed lowered immune functioning. Once they stopped taking the immuno-suppressant, function returned to normal. However, when they were then given saccharine-water without the drug, their immune function reduced again. This was caused by the rat's nervous system (brain) making the association between the taste of saccharine-water and the impact this had previously had on its body. The rat thought the saccharine-water caused it's immune system to fail ... so it did.(2)
- In the month following a severe stressor such as the death of a spouse, death by all causes increases significantly (3)
- Latent viruses, such as herpes, are more likely to express themselves if a person is under chronic stress. (4)
- A study done of divorced couples showed that they had significantly lower immune system functioning than average, and that there was significant link between the drop in immune function and the level of ongoing emotional attachment to the relationship. (5)
- Skin grafts were found to have a better success rate on burns victims after they had undergone emotional counselling for the traumatic experience they had been through. (6)
- People who are feeling angry have higher blood pressure. People who feel anger or resentment over a long period of time, even if kept under control (also known as repressed) have an increased chance of coronary heart disease and stroke. (7)
- Infections are more likely and wounds take longer to heal if a person is experiencing stress (8) (9)
The implications this has for our health, and in turn, our healing is vast. If our minds, emotions and beliefs can change our bodily functions to create ill-health, then conversely, can they create and maintain good health?
The answer is YES!
Once we have an understanding of this process, we can use this knowledge to manipulate the interactions between our nervous systems and our bodies.
Imagine the possibilities if we harness this power to help our bodies heal ...
In my next blog I will explain HOW our minds create these changes in our bodies.
Connecting the Mind and Body for Health
(2) R Ader and N Cohen. Behaviorally conditioned immunosuppression. Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol 37, Issue 4 333-340
3) Kaprio J.; Koskenvuo M.; Rita H. (1987). "Mortality after bereavement: a prospective study of 95,647 widowed persons". American Journal of Public Health. 77 (3): 283–7. doi:10.2105/ajph.77.3.283.
(8) Cohen S.; Tyrrell D. A.; Smith A. P. (1991). "Psychological stress and susceptibility to the common cold". The New England Journal of Medicine. 325 (9): 606–12. doi:10.1056/nejm199108293250903.
(9) Cohen S.; Williamson G. M. (1991). "Stress and infectious disease in humans". Psychological Bulletin. 109 (1): 5–24. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.109.1.5. PMID 2006229.