We live as though our thoughts don’t affect our bodies
Negative thoughts making you sick? No way. But with all the media scares about obesity, heart disease and cancer, I bet you’ve been wondering how toxic your thoughts are? Do you notice unpleasant sensations in your body when you are anxious, stressed or frustrated? Sweat, tension, heartburn or pain? Do you get an upset stomach? Most of us are so highly stressed these days that we tend to take a bit of discomfort for granted. If you’re a busy, successful person, you can’t look like a slacker by taking too much rest and relaxation, eh? You just have to keep going, like everyone else. Does this sound like you?
Let’s look a minute at how we got here
If you’re anything like me, you were not brought up to consider how your thoughts affect your health. As a kid if you worked up a negative mental state, you were just difficult to be around and it affected your relationships. Get straight to your room! On the other hand if you were sick, you’d just picked up a bug somewhere and a few pills would fix it. Health seemed simple and clean-cut back then.
Today we see the rapidly escalating burden of chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. We have to wonder what’s going to hit us and when. Somewhere inside we feel out of kilter with life. Social networks aren’t giving up the support we need. We’re not getting the right food or the right exercise or enough yoga. Worryingly in Australia suicide is on the rise too – in 2016 it was the leading cause of death for 15-44 year olds, with men three times as affected as women1. I’m horrified that this is the case in the lucky country – where have we failed to support ourselves and each other?
Lissa Rankin MD, TEDx 2016
Our human ecosystem is a single unit, not a bunch of separate systems
Our bodies were once thought to be made up of many systems that could be treated in isolation – just blast a localised symptom and all will be well. This revolutionary approach allowed a giant leap forward in the early days of modern medicine, when anaesthetics, surgery, antibiotics and pills saved countless lives that would routinely have been lost. Times have changed though and it’s proving very costly in our modern landscape, as we are taken over by pharmaceutical giants who may not have our best interests at heart. Finally in the last 10-15 years our scientists are taking the long view and proving that our brain, heart, respiratory, muscular, endocrine and digestive systems are entwined in ways that we never suspected. The biochemistry of our body is so complex and inter-related that the seemingly harmless side-effects of many medications can be very far reaching and severe. A new crisis is upon us.
To answer this, emerging scientific research on epigenetics, gut microbiota and the brain is now shining a beacon to the future. It’s piecing all our systems back together again. We now know a lot more about how the energy and biochemistry of our thoughts affect our bodies, and how long-term stress and anxiety may attack our heart, gut, gene expression and immune system, contributing to chronic disease.
Many people are now acutely aware of their stress response
Stress is a biological and psychological response experienced on encountering a threat that we feel we do not have the resources to deal with.
A stressor is the stimulus or threat that causes stress, e.g. shark attack, exam, divorce, death of loved one, moving house, loss of job. Or sometimes there’s just no milk left in the fridge. The average modern man or woman will experience around 50 stress responses in a day. Socially isolated people can experience twice as many. Our stress response is designed to stop immediately the shark swims off, but for us city-dwellers the stress response can be very slow to turn off and may remain on for long periods. This is very unfortunate because stress:
- Triggers adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol release
- Increases heart rate
- Increases blood flow and pressure
- Speeds up respiration
- Releases glucose from the liver
- Turns off digestion
- Constricts blood vessels (except muscles)
- Increases muscle tension
- Narrows vision and lessens hearing
- Suppresses immune activity, reproductive function and growth
- Exaggerates negative cognition and attribution of hostility
So when that’s chronic, it’s not going to help your day. I doubt your boss is going to seem any more appealing either.
We can think our way in to and out of illness
Don’t worry there is good news. The yoga you’ve been doing for years is fantastic and science is bringing us clarity and perhaps hope.
For example the inconvenient truth to Big Pharma: It has been long documented that placebos can yield significant recovery rates compared to pharmaceutical or surgical interventions. Studies show recovery rates up to 70%, sometimes even exceeding the medical treatment results. This is faith in action – the effect of holding a positive belief about recovery. It’s so strong that it applies to all kinds of diseases and across all belief systems and religions. It will even work when your trusty doctor gives you a pill for your disease and TELLS YOU it has no active component. If you believe.
It just happens that the body has its own innate repair mechanisms which are encouraged or inhibited by our beliefs. Conversely to the placebo effect, having a negative belief about recovery, known as the nocebo effect, is destructive to recovery. Such negative beliefs can be taken on from others or generated from our own fear and trauma.
If we look though at radical remission, typically from late stage cancer but including a range of other ‘incurable’ and terminal diseases, the factors affecting radical remission are almost all non-physical. In a study of over 300 people in radical remission these are the 9 positive actions these people had in common in their healing journeys.
I discovered all this the hard way
After a long and successful IT career, my last job working for a startup in the city was tough. My stress levels were off the charts. I was not able to acquit myself properly of my responsibilities and the weight of that knowledge wore me down daily. I’m not generally a quitter so I stuck at it, trying different approaches to get the job done. Eventually though I realised the stress was killing me and I quit.
Two weeks later, I had a serious heart attack as I was running on the beach at 6am and I realised I’d cut it too fine. To put this in perspective I’m normally very fit and healthy, a good weight, exercise daily, have an excellent fresh food diet, meditate and don’t drink or smoke. I was well under the standard age range for heart attacks and I have no other chronic disease. I thought I was ticking all the boxes. Now this.
Happily I had also been training and working for several years with Reiki, EFT, NLP and Kinesiology, with the view to taking it full time. It was the nudge I needed.
I spent some time recovering and reflecting on the whys and wherefores, studying scientific papers on the state of modern health, then I cracked on with this business. I now work with others in a similar situation and it’s got to be the best choice I’ve ever made.
Social Support is key
I highlight social support because our social interactions are possibly at an all time low in quality and depth. Do you agree? Referring again to Lissa Rankin’s proposition that loneliness is a leading cause of death and the Australian statistics on suicide. You don’t have to be alone to be lonely. You just have to feel cut off from the love, understanding, joy and support that will allow you to thrive.
- A recent Swedish study concluded that owning a dog was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of all-cause death 2
- A US study shows that marriage is good for your longevity – unmarried people, and particularly those never married, die younger 3
We need to build community and connection, reaching out with love in ways we have not always been taught. We need to allow ourselves to slow down and be human again. You know it and I know it. It’s urgent.
5 ways to improve your health with your mind
You’ve always known this, but right now we need to practice peace as if peace was all there is
It’s the best anti-stress agent available and liberates the mind. Holding a grudge is one of the most corrosive mental activities we can pursue.
Be glad for what you have and you will feel joy, but more importantly you will create a more joyful mental attitude that will attract the good energy and results you are seeking.
Be part of the whole – there is no separation between us and we are all guided by a universal power, whatever that means to each of us. Faith begets courage, serenity and acceptance. It alone can liberate our minds.
Don’t give in to your limbic brain on food choices. Use your mind. Give your frontal lobe a workout – think, eat, live and love deliberately
Have you suffered physical disease that may be linked to negative thoughts?
Leave me a comment below.