Can you think your­self well?


Good Health (Australia) - - Content -

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?

Cre­at­ing headspace

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

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