Heal Yourself By Harnessing Your Mind

By Jo Marchant | May 23, 2014 10:48 am

mind harness

We tend to think of medicine as being all about pills and potions recommended to us by another person—a doctor. But science is starting to reveal that for many conditions another ingredient could be critical to the success of these drugs, or perhaps even replace them. That ingredient is nothing more than your own mind.

Here are six ways to raid your built-in medicine cabinet.

1. Better believe it

“I talk to my pills,” says Dan Moerman, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. “I say, ‘Hey guys, I know you’re going to do a terrific job.’”

That might sound eccentric, but based on what we’ve learned about the placebo effect, there is good reason to think that talking to your pills really can make them do a terrific job. The way we think and feel about medical treatments can dramatically influence how our bodies respond.

Simply believing that a treatment will work may trigger the desired effect even if the treatment is inert—a sugar pill, say, or a saline injection. For a wide range of conditions, from depression to Parkinson’s, osteoarthritis and multiple sclerosis, it is clear that the placebo response is far from imaginary. Trials have shown measurable changes such as the release of natural painkillers, altered neuronal firing patterns, lowered blood pressure or heart rate and boosted immune response, all depending on the beliefs of the patient.

It has always been assumed that the placebo effect only works if people are conned into believing that they are getting an actual active drug. But now it seems this may not be true. Belief in the placebo effect itself—rather than a particular drug—might be enough to encourage our bodies to heal.

In a recent study, Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard Medical School in Boston and his colleagues gave people with irritable bowel syndrome an inert pill. They told them that the pills were “made of an inert substance, like sugar pills, that have been shown in clinical studies to produce significant improvement in IBS symptoms through mind-body self-healing processes,” which is perfectly true. Despite knowing the pills were inert, on average the volunteers rated their symptoms as moderately improved after taking them, whereas those given no pills said there was only a slight change.

“Everybody thought it wouldn’t happen,” says the study’s co-author Irving Kirsch, a psychologist at the University of Hull. He thinks that the key was giving patients something to believe in. “We didn’t just say ‘here’s a sugar pill.’ We explained to the patients why it should work, in a way that was convincing to them.”

As well as having implications for the medical profession, the study raises the possibility that we could all use the placebo effect to convince ourselves that sucking on a sweet or downing a glass of water, for example, will banish a headache, clear up a skin condition or boost the effectiveness of any drugs that we take. “Our study suggests that might indeed help,” says Kirsch. While Moerman talks to his pills, Kirsch recommends visualizing the desired improvement and telling yourself that something is going to get better.

2. Think positive

“Everything’s going to be fine.” Go on, try to convince yourself, because realism can be bad for your health. Optimists recover better from medical procedures such as coronary bypass surgery, have healthier immune systems and live longer, both in general and when suffering from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure.

It is well accepted that negative thoughts and anxiety can make us ill. Stress—the belief that we are at risk—triggers physiological pathways such as the “fight-or-flight” response, mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. These have evolved to protect us from danger, but if switched on long-term they increase the risk of conditions such as diabetes and dementia.

What researchers are now realizing is that positive beliefs don’t just work by quelling stress. They have a positive effect too—feeling safe and secure, or believing things will turn out fine, seems to help the body maintain and repair itself. A recent analysis of various studies concluded that the health benefits of such positive thinking happen independently of the harm caused by negative states such as pessimism or stress, and are roughly comparable in magnitude.

Optimism seems to reduce stress-induced inflammation and levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. It may also reduce susceptibility to disease by dampening sympathetic nervous system activity and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The latter governs what’s called the “rest-and-digest” response—the opposite of fight-or-flight.

Just as helpful as taking a rosy view of the future is having a rosy view of yourself. High “self-enhancers”—people who see themselves in a more positive light than others see them—have lower cardiovascular responses to stress and recover faster, as well as lower baseline cortisol levels.

Some people are just born optimists. But whatever your natural disposition, you can train yourself to think more positively, and it seems that the more stressed or pessimistic you are to begin with, the better it will work.

David Creswell from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his colleagues asked students facing exams to write short essays on times when they had displayed qualities that were important to them, such as creativity or independence. The aim was to boost their sense of self-worth. Compared with a control group, students who “self-affirmed” in this way had lower levels of adrenaline and other fight-or-flight hormones in their urine at the time of their exam. The effect was greatest in those who started off most worried about their exam results.

3. Trust people

Your attitude toward other people can have a big effect on your health. Being lonely increases the risk of everything from heart attacks to dementia, depression and death, whereas people who are satisfied with their social lives sleep better, age more slowly and respond better to vaccines. The effect is so strong that curing loneliness is as good for your health as giving up smoking, according to John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, Illinois, who has spent his career studying the effects of social isolation.

“It’s probably the single most powerful behavioral finding in the world,” agrees Charles Raison of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who studies mind–body interactions. “People who have rich social lives and warm, open relationships don’t get sick and they live longer.” This is partly because people who are lonely often don’t look after themselves well, but Cacioppo says there are direct physiological mechanisms too—related to, but not identical to, the effects of stress.

In 2011, Cacioppo reported that in lonely people, genes involved in cortisol signaling and the inflammatory response were up-regulated, and that immune cells important in fighting bacteria were more active, too. He suggests that our bodies may have evolved so that in situations of perceived social isolation, they trigger branches of the immune system involved in wound healing and bacterial infection. An isolated person would be at greater risk of physical trauma, whereas being in a group might favor the immune responses necessary for fighting viruses, which spread easily between people in close contact.

Crucially, these differences relate most strongly to how lonely people think they are, rather than to the actual size of their social network. That also makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, says Cacioppo, because being among hostile strangers can be just as dangerous as being alone. So ending loneliness is not about spending more time with people. Cacioppo thinks it is all about our attitude to others: lonely people become overly sensitive to social threats and come to see others as potentially dangerous. In a review of previous studies, published in 2010, he found that tackling this attitude reduced loneliness more effectively than giving people more opportunities for interaction, or teaching social skills.

If you feel satisfied with your social life, whether you have one or two close friends or quite a few, there is nothing to worry about. “But if you’re sitting there feeling threatened by others and as if you’re alone in the world, that’s probably a reason to take steps,” Cacioppo says.

4. Meditate

Monks have been meditating on mountaintops for millennia, hoping to gain spiritual enlightenment. Their efforts have probably enhanced their physical health, too.

Trials looking at the effects of meditation have mostly been small, but they have suggested a range of benefits. There is some evidence that meditation boosts the immune response in vaccine recipients and people with cancer, protects against a relapse in major depression, soothes skin conditions and even slows the progression of HIV.

Meditation might even slow the aging process. Telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, get shorter every time a cell divides and so play a role in aging. Clifford Saron of the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, and colleagues showed in 2011 that levels of an enzyme that builds up telomeres were higher in people who attended a threemonth meditation retreat than in a control group.

As with social interaction, meditation probably works largely by influencing stress response pathways. People who meditate have lower cortisol levels, and one study showed they have changes in their amygdala, a brain area involved in fear and the response to threat.

One of the co-authors of Saron’s study, Elissa Epel, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, believes that meditation may also boost “pathways of restoration and health enhancement,” perhaps by triggering a release of growth and sex hormones.

If you don’t have time for a three-month retreat, don’t worry. Imaging studies show that meditation can cause structural changes in the brain after as little as 11 hours of training. Epel suggests fitting in short “mini-meditations” throughout the day, taking a few minutes at your desk to focus on your breathing, for example: “Little moments here and there all matter.”

5. Hypnotize yourself

Hypnotherapy has struggled for scientific acceptance ever since Franz Mesmer claimed in the 18th century that he could cure all manner of ills with what he termed “animal magnetism.” “The whole field is plagued by people who don’t feel research is necessary,” says Peter Whorwell of the University of Manchester.

Whorwell has spent much of his professional life building a body of evidence for the use of hypnosis to treat just one condition: irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is considered a “functional” disorder—a rather derogatory term used when a patient suffers symptoms but doctors can’t see anything wrong. Whorwell felt that his patients, some of whom had such severe symptoms they were suicidal, were being let down by the medical profession. “I got into hypnosis because the conventional treatment of these conditions is abysmal.”

Whorwell gives patients a brief tutorial on how the gut functions, then gets them to use visual or tactile sensations—the feeling of warmth, for example—to imagine their bowel working normally. It seems to work—IBS is the only condition for which hypnosis is recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Despite this, Whorwell still has trouble convincing doctors to prescribe it. “We’ve produced a lot of incontrovertible research,” he says. “Yet people are still loath to agree to it.”

Part of the problem is that it isn’t clear exactly how hypnosis works. What is clear is that when hypnotized, people can influence parts of their body in novel ways. Whorwell has shown that under hypnosis, some IBS patients can reduce the contractions of their bowel, something not normally under conscious control. Their bowel lining also becomes less sensitive to pain.

Hypnosis probably taps into physiological pathways similar to those involved in the placebo effect, says Kirsch. For one thing, the medical conditions that the two can improve are similar, and both are underpinned by suggestion and expectation—in other words, believing in a particular outcome. The downside is that some people do not respond as strongly to hypnosis as others.

Most clinical trials involving hypnosis are small, largely because of a lack of funding, but they suggest that hypnosis may help pain management, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, obesity, asthma and skin conditions such as psoriasis and warts. Finding a good hypnotherapist can be tricky, as the profession is not regulated, but hypnotizing yourself seems to work just as well. “Self-hypnosis is the most important part,” says Whorwell.

6. Know your purpose

In a study of 50 people with advanced lung cancer, those judged by their doctors to have high “spiritual faith” responded better to chemotherapy and survived longer. More than 40 percent were still alive after three years, compared with less than 10 percent of those judged to have little faith. Are your hackles rising? You’re not alone. Of all the research into the healing potential of thoughts and beliefs, studies into the effects of religion are the most controversial.

There are thousands of studies purporting to show a link between some aspect of religion—such as attending church or praying—and better health. Religion has been associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, stroke, blood pressure and metabolic disorders, better immune functioning, improved outcomes for infections such as HIV and meningitis, and lower risk of developing cancer.

Critics of these studies, such as Richard Sloan of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, point out that many of them don’t adequately tease out other factors. For instance, religious people often have lower-risk lifestyles and churchgoers tend to enjoy strong social support, and seriously ill people are less likely to attend church. Nonetheless, a 2009 analysis of studies in the area concluded, after trying to control for these factors, that “religiosity/spirituality” does have a protective effect, though only in healthy people. The authors warned that there might be a publication bias, though, with researchers failing to publish negative results.

Even if the link between religion and better health is genuine, there is no need to invoke divine intervention to explain it. Some researchers attribute it to the placebo effect—trusting that some deity or other will heal you may be just as effective as belief in a drug or doctor. Others, like Paolo Lissoni of San Gerardo Hospital in Milan, who did the lung-cancer study mentioned above, believe that positive emotions associated with “spirituality” promote beneficial physiological responses.

Yet others think that what really matters is having a sense of purpose in life, whatever it might be. Having an idea of why you are here and what is important increases our sense of control over events, rendering them less stressful. In Saron’s three-month meditation study, the increase in levels of the enzyme that repairs telomeres correlated with an increased sense of control and an increased sense of purpose in life. In fact, Saron argues, this psychological shift may have been more important than the meditation itself.

He points out that the participants were already keen meditators, so the study gave them the chance to spend three months doing something important to them. Spending more time doing what you love, whether it’s gardening or voluntary work, might have a similar effect on health. The big news from the study, Saron says, is “the profound impact of having the opportunity to live your life in a way that you find meaningful.”

 

NOTHING coverExcerpted from Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion, copyright © 2014. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment. Available wherever books are sold.

 

Image by Lightspring / Shutterstock

  • Alexandro Giraud

    Great!!

  • dscot

    There is no doubt in my mind that all these factors can help. I have the ‘cheap’ version of a Q Ray, and it really helps my arthritis, even thought I know it’s a placebo.

  • Ahmed Abou El Fadl

    Excellent

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  • Milton Waddams

    “Even if the link between religion and better health is genuine, there is no need to invoke divine intervention to explain it. ”
    I’m spiritual, not religious. But this is something that I’ve been philosophizing about for many years: if we understand the beautiful complexity of an apparition, does that make it any less magical?

  • Dyrdek Rob

    i was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS for over 5 years which made loose my job and my relationship with my fiance after he discovered that i was having HIV, he departed from me i tried all my best to make him stays with me, but neglected me until a friend of mine on Facebook from Singapore told me Great healer, who will restore my life back with his powerful healing spell, he sent me the email address to contact (dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com) and i quickly contacted him, and he said my condition can solved, that he will treat the disease immediately only if i can accept trust him and accept his terms and condition, i Agreed because i was so much in need of help by all means, so i did all he want from me and surprisingly on Sunday last week He sent me a text, that i should hurry up to the hospital for a checkup, which i truly did, i confirm from my doctor that i am now ( HIV NEGATIVE) my eyes filled with tears and joy, crying heavily because truly the disease deprived me of many things from my life, This is a Miracle, Please do not en-devour to email dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com, or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com for healing and solution

  • Dyrdek Rob

    i was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS for over 5 years which made loose my job and my relationship with my fiance after he discovered that i was having HIV, he departed from me i tried all my best to make him stays with me, but neglected me until a friend of mine on Facebook from Singapore told me Great healer, who will restore my life back with his powerful healing spell, he sent me the email address to contact (dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com) and i quickly contacted him, and he said my condition can solved, that he will treat the disease immediately only if i can accept trust him and accept his terms and condition, i Agreed because i was so much in need of help by all means, so i did all he want from me and surprisingly on Sunday last week He sent me a text, that i should hurry up to the hospital for a checkup, which i truly did, i confirm from my doctor that i am now ( HIV NEGATIVE) my eyes filled with tears and joy, crying heavily because truly the disease deprived me of many things from my life, This is a Miracle, Please do not en-devour to email dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com, or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com for healing and solution….

  • ukfecpl

    If you believe it’s real, it’s real.

  • John Williams

    its a pleasure for me to write this testimony about this wonderful thing that happened to me last week on how i got my HIV aids cured, i have been reading so-many post of some people who were cured of HIV, but i never believed them, I was hurt and depressed so I was too curious and wanted to try dr.Ariba then i contacted him on his email on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com, when i contact him, he assured me 100% that he will heal me, i pleaded with him to help me out, its a great success that he healed just as he promised, he told me that in three days time that i should go and check on my HIV status, I was floored that when i went to the hospital to check of my status that i was HIV negative, i never thought possible that dr.Ariba can do miracles, i never really believed in magic but I played along with a little hope and and faith and after everything but dr ARIBA changed my life and made me a true believer you can contact him on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com, or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com he can help you out

  • John Williams

    its a pleasure for me to write this testimony about this wonderful thing that happened to me last week on how i got my HIV aids cured, i have been reading so-many post of some people who were cured of HIV, but i never believed them, I was hurt and depressed so I was too curious and wanted to try dr.Ariba then i contacted him on his email on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com, when i contact him, he assured me 100% that he will heal me, i pleaded with him to help me out, its a great success that he healed just as he promised, he told me that in three days time that i should go and check on my HIV status, I was floored that when i went to the hospital to check of my status that i was HIV negative, i never thought possible that dr.Ariba can do miracles, i never really believed in magic but I played along with a little hope and and faith and after everything but dr ARIBA changed my life and made me a true believer you can contact him on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com, or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com he can help you out….

  • JulieG70

    Excellent article thank you. Trusting in the wisdom and richness of Mother Earths bounty and her power to renew my spirit has brought me far in my journey.

  • Karen Carrera

    I never believed that I would ever be cured of HIV on till now.

    Am From USA i saw some testimonies on the internet on how Dr. Ariba cured a girl of HIV/AIDS. but because i was desperate i tried and contacted him on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com and luckilly he prepared the cure for me and sent me a parcel and after two days of drinking the content of the percel as instructed, i was healed totally. if you need his help, you can contact him on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com Or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com and get cured.

    Kind regards,

  • Karen Carrera

    I never believed that I would ever be cured of HIV on till now.

    Am From USA i saw some testimonies on the internet on how Dr. Ariba cured a girl of HIV/AIDS. but because i was desperate i tried and contacted him on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com and luckilly he prepared the cure for me and sent me a parcel and after two days of drinking the content of the percel as instructed, i was healed totally. if you need his help, you can contact him on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com Or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com and get cured.

    Kind regards,…….

  • Josh Sims

    I am trusting doctors less and less these days. It has made more sense that for several years now I use a service to do my own lab testing…now at least I know what is happening with my health and when I need to I see my doctor instead of going to see him and waiting weeks to get results. By doing this I have been able to make changes in my eating habits, found out a ton of stuff I never knew, like having a big vitamin deficiency. anyway if anyone is interested there is some good articles at besthomehealthtest and explains alot about how all the systems in the body are connected and how stress affects our health too.

  • Helen Tolbert

    Dr Ariba God will continue to bless you more abundantly, for the good works you are doing in peoples life, I will keep on writng and posting testimonies about you on the Internet, I’m Helen Tolbert, I was a HIV patient, I saw a blog on how Dr. Ariba cured someone, I contacted him and also got my healing, kindly email him now on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com Or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com email me on tolberthelen@gmail.com

  • Helen Tolbert

    Dr Ariba God will continue to bless you more abundantly, for the good works you are doing in peoples life, I will keep on writng and posting testimonies about you on the Internet, I’m Helen Tolbert, I was a HIV patient, I saw a blog on how Dr. Ariba cured someone, I contacted him and also got my healing, kindly email him now on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com Or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com email me on tolberthelen@gmail.com……

  • jackster12

    What I find striking about the religious aspect is that, if you think about it even in purely analytical terms, it’s a practice that encourages all of the first five factors on this list… at least in some religious communities.

  • John Kelly

    I cured my seasonal allergies with homeopathic pills–not with homeopathy, because I found that after running out of pills specific to hay fever, which worked, I could use any kind of homeopathic pill and it would work too.

  • Realspiritik

    Good list, but I’d add sleep. Thinking positively is great, but if you don’t give your brain a chance to do its heavy-duty “rewiring” tasks while you’re asleep, you’re seriously undermining your own positive healing efforts.

    Meditation works for many people, but not for everyone. An option I prefer to meditation is letting my brain rest in the default network. I get some of my best intuitive ideas that way.

    Thanks for discussing this important topic!

  • AG

    Core issue – stress reduction (Placebo, religion, meditation, hypnosis, hope, purpose of life, hobbies, ect).
    Every one should find its own way to reduce anxiety. Forcing an introvert to socialize with many people is stressful. Meditation works better for introverts. For extraverts, social isolation is stressful.

  • Miller Lincoln

    Join me celebrate this day which my Lord God has made for using this great and powerful healer called Dr Ariba to heal my HIV/AIDS diseases which has been eating me up for over 6years now without solutions, i tried looking for solutions online, and through hospital, they keep on giving me orientations about drugs that can extend my years. now since Dr Ariba has helped me to cure my disease with the use of herbs and knowledge of his forefathers everything has been going well, i owe you greatly for healing me so if anybody need is help or you also want to get cured you can contact him on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com Or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com

  • Miller Lincoln

    Join me celebrate this day which my Lord God has made for using this great and powerful healer called Dr Ariba to heal my HIV/AIDS diseases which has been eating me up for over 6years now without solutions, i tried looking for solutions online, and through hospital, they keep on giving me orientations about drugs that can extend my years. now since Dr Ariba has helped me to cure my disease with the use of herbs and knowledge of his forefathers everything has been going well, i owe you greatly for healing me so if anybody need is help or you also want to get cured you can contact him on dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com Or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com…………

  • Logan Handerson

    Do you know that there is a great spell caster who can cure
    any deadly disease. Like Cancer, Hiv, syphilis, madness, low spam count e.t.c.
    Well my main reason why i am writing this right now is to inform the whole
    world about the great deeds, Dr. Ariba did for me. I was diagnosed of this
    deadly disease in the year 2000 ever since then i was taking my medications,
    until i met the great spell caster, though i never believed in spell. I saw
    many testimonies on how a great spell caster cured their deadly diseases. I
    contacted him through his phone number. I called him, he asked me to send him
    my email, which i did. He gave me a form to fill, I filled it and send it back
    to him. He told me that his god’s required some items in which he will use in
    casting a curing spell on me. I don’t know where to find the items he required.
    He told me that the only alternative is for of to send him the money, then he
    can help me to purchase the items from the items sellers. I promised myself to
    do anything to get cured. I sent him the money. He bought the items and casted
    a curing spell on me. Two day later he asked me to go for check-up, when i did
    the check-up i was tested HIV Negative. If you passing through hardship and you
    need a way out, kindly contact him via his email on
    dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com

  • Logan Handerson

    Do you know that there is a great spell caster who can cure
    any deadly disease. Like Cancer, Hiv, syphilis, madness, low spam count e.t.c.
    Well my main reason why i am writing this right now is to inform the whole
    world about the great deeds, Dr. Ariba did for me. I was diagnosed of this
    deadly disease in the year 2000 ever since then i was taking my medications,
    until i met the great spell caster, though i never believed in spell. I saw
    many testimonies on how a great spell caster cured their deadly diseases. I
    contacted him through his phone number. I called him, he asked me to send him
    my email, which i did. He gave me a form to fill, I filled it and send it back
    to him. He told me that his god’s required some items in which he will use in
    casting a curing spell on me. I don’t know where to find the items he required.
    He told me that the only alternative is for of to send him the money, then he
    can help me to purchase the items from the items sellers. I promised myself to
    do anything to get cured. I sent him the money. He bought the items and casted
    a curing spell on me. Two day later he asked me to go for check-up, when i did
    the check-up i was tested HIV Negative. If you passing through hardship and you
    need a way out, kindly contact him via his email on
    dr.aribaspelltemple@outlook.com or draribaspelltemple@gmail.com……….

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