Anything from the common cold, to back pain, to diabetes, to cancer, to…. The list is long!
All are more likely to develop in people who suffer from stress.
In fact, some say 90% of illnesses are caused by stress.
So instead of the question ‘how does our stress levels effect our health’, the better one to ask might not be ‘how does our stress levels NOT effect our health?’
This mind body connection is well covered in the media and across the health and wellbeing fields.
Yet, many who experience stress, continue to struggle on. They are either unsure how to improve it, or even believe it’s impossible to, or they belittle the importance of their stress levels.
Either way, avoidance or denial is central to the problem. So easily done, yet so harmful.
Another aspect of the mind body connection is that of the importance of our expectations and beliefs on our health, performance and peace of mind.
Last week, The BBC’s Horizon aired an intriguing programme about the placebo effect. It showed not only how dummy pills can increase sports performance and reduce the effects of serious illnesses but also how sham surgeries (i.e. patients are anaesthetised and cut open/injected but no procedure was performed) can have as positive an impact as the real deal.
The programme demonstrated how the dummy pills/sham operations caused the placebo effect to tap into the chemical systems that our brains have developed in the same way as pain controlling opiate drugs like morphine would.
It also showed how Parkinson symptoms faded with a placebo. In this case, brain scans showed a significant release of dopamine in the brain. Identical effect to that of the real drugs! Yet again, the placebo tapped into the brain’s internal pharmacy, ensuring the release of the previously suppressed hormone.
Pretty powerful stuff!
The only problem being that, whether it’s dummy pills or fake operations, deception is a major ingredient in the mix.
So, the important question is ‘how do we use the placebo effect?’ as we clearly can’t be taking pretend pills or use fake surgery in order to stimulate this mind body connection.
Ongoing Harvard research has shown a clear link between the relationship of the practitioner and the patient and the strength of the placebo effect.
IBS patients, who were told they were taking sugar pills, still enjoyed the same symptom relief as when taking the real drug.
Even though the pills were known to be chemically worthless, simply seeing the study physician and taking two pills a day caused the body to respond.
Patients given acupuncture reported significantly lower relief levels when the practitioner didn’t interact with them whilst administering the treatment, compared with those who’s practitioner showed empathy, care and offered reassurance that the treatment was likely to work.
So the relationship is important to the effectiveness of the treatment, not simply the treatment itself.
In a different study by Denier and Chan in 2011, the relationships across our lives and their importance on our happiness levels were researched. They found a huge link between happiness and health and longevity and that if you’re happy you will on average have an extra 10 years of life compared to the less happy amongst us.
In fact, our mind is so powerful over our physical health, that loneliness has been found to be twice as great a health risk as obesity.
So, there’s no doubt our brain and mind have a huge impact on our body and health. But how can we maximize this connection positively in our lives? Read on for some hands on tips to try out….
Top tips for the using the mind body connection
1. Don’t underestimate the impact of stress. Have you got a condition that suddenly flares up? Does sleeping suddenly become illusive? Do head aches and body pains plague you? Have a look around you and evaluate what has changed, what is worrying you, what feels like ‘too much’. If they’re ignored, the aches and pains may develop into more serious things so stop and take notice. Your body may be flagging that your mind needs some TLC.
2. Priorities seeing your friends. The connectedness will aid your happiness, which in turn gives you more energy to fit in some things you may have deprioritised in order to see your friends. What a win win!
3. Focus on the good stuff! In Deiner and Chan’s study, the participant’s happiness wasn’t determined by their success but whether they were focusing on the things that made them sad, or the things that made them happy. It’s your choice!
3. Be a kind friend, particularly to yourself; kindness, compassion and patience produce very positive changes in your brain and body chemistry.
4. Wherever possible, work with people you trust and like. Especially where the relationship is one where you’re receiving help. Even if a doctor or other practitioner comes with great reputation, if they don’t make you feel understood, heard or cared for, find someone who does.