Can you think yourself well?
SCIENCE IS SHOWING THAT OUR MIND HAS A BIG PART TO PLAY IN HOW OUR BODIES REACT AND RECOVER. WE TAKE A LOOK AT THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION
Why is it some people are super-proactive about their health – they drink green smoothies, they exercise regularly, they are the poster children for a healthy lifestyle – and yet they are sick, stressed, or fatigued all the time? And then, on the flipside, there are those who say yes to burgers more than they say yes to salads, who rarely exercise, and yet they are the picture of wellness. Unfair? Maybe; but it also could provide a big hint as to what many of us might be neglecting. Our state of mind can play a massive role in not only how our physical body reacts to things, but also our recovery time. So, in this environment of rising rates of burnout, sensitive stomachs, skin conditions and recurring headaches, there might be a silver bullet within our grasp: can we think ourselves well?
Recent research from the University of Auckland looked at the effect our psychology can have on our health. Elizabeth Broadbent, associate professor in health psychology, did a study on 49 healthy senior citizens, to test the effect of journaling on helping heal physical wounds faster. Half of the group were asked to write for 20 minutes a day about a private traumatic event they had rarely
'Treat the patient, not the symptoms’
discussed with other people. The other half also wrote for 20 minutes, but about non-emotional content. Researchers then took a skin biopsy from the arms of every participant, and took photographs to track the wound’s healing process. After 11 days, 76 per cent of the group that had written about their personal trauma had healed completely, whereas only 42 per cent of the other group had. Writing about these events, Broadbent hypothesised, helped the people process what had happened to them, clearing cognitive space that had long been taken up by the events and their related stressors.
The placebo effect
The brain can be an important tool when it comes to our health – it’s one of the reasons the placebo effect is so powerful.
Clinical trials of antidepressents have shown that patients treated with placebos improve about 75 per cent as much as they would have with antidepressants themselves. The same argument has been made for other common pills. You feel the early symptoms of a cold coming on, so you pop a couple of vitamin C, because that will help your cold, right? Well, yes – but not in the way you think.
Despite decades of testing, there is still not enough substantial evidence to prove that vitamin C has any physiological effect on a cold. However, there is evidence that there is a strong psychosomatic response to taking them – in other words, you get better because you expect to. Researchers have shown that those who took a placebo in the early stages of a cold went on to then have milder symptoms.
Full body health
‘Treat the patient, not the symptoms’, is the new adage that has come with the rise of integrative medicine. With your GP, you get 15 minutes to sit down and discuss whatever ‘breaking news’ symptom you’re currently experiencing. With integrative medicine, you’ll be asked about your physical symptoms but you’ll also be asked about your whole life: How is your job? How are your relationships? How is your sex life? How is your stress? Do you express your creative side? Do you feel valued and fulfilled? The answers to this give a full picture of your whole life, and therefore your whole health. Basically, you can drink all the matcha green tea you want; but if you feel constantly unfulfilled by your life, or you’re in an unhappy marriage, or you’re experiencing grief, loss, or deep resentment, you may not be able to deal with the physiological symptoms until you’ve dealt with the psychological root.
Our state of mind can play a massive role in our recovery time