We hear this all the time, right?
Get your head in the game. Mind over matter. Your body listens to your thoughts.
"Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right," said Henry Ford.
These ideas are very Eastern Medicine-ish, meaning in Western Medicine, practitioners may get a little squeamish about mindfulness, meditation, and cognition as it relates to physical conditions, such as auto-immune diseases. Although I must say, this seems like it's starting to evolve. Western Medicine is just slow to get on this mind/body connection train.
In Western Medicine, it is very much the practice of following what the research says. If there is an idea that hasn't been shown in the research, then forget about it. The great thing about that is, if you happen to fit the mold similar to the patients in these studies, then the odds that you will benefit from this proven treatment are in your favor. But let me tell you from 10 years of treating many many patients of all types, people are very unique. I can't implement the same treatment plan for every person that has knee pain. This is what makes my job so hard but so interesting! Anyhow, if something hasn't been proven in research studies or hasn't been studied at all, Western Medicine tends to overlook them. This is also supported by insurance companies, who may say they will only reimburse proven methods of intervention.
The good news is, there ARE studies in favor of the importance of the mind/body connection. So there, Western Medicine. I started researching cold shower therapy and its influence on decreasing depression symptoms when I turned down a different rabbit hole. The article about cold showers will just have to be for another day... In the meantime, at the end of your showers, try standing under cold water and time yourself to see how long you can stand it. I've started experimenting and so far I am at 20 seconds, which I'm damn proud of. :) (I hate cold water)
I found a study by Kox et. al. who looked at comparing immune responses of two groups of health men (sorry, ladies); one group with no intervention and one group that completed a training program of meditation, breathing, and exposure to cold. The group that completed the training program demonstrated statistically more favorable autonomic and immune responses to experimentally induced inflammation. But THEN a paper written by van Middendorp et. al. took that same study a step further and noticed, in the trained group, the folks that had more optimism in their expectancy of a beneficial outcome from their training program, showed the best autonomic and immune responses compared to the others in their same group. If they believed this training program was going to be super beneficial for their health, then their bodies were like, "Take that, inflammation!"
This is no groundbreaking finding. The placebo effect has been studied timelessly and all of these studies say the same thing. What you believe, your body believes too.
Why is meditation so cool? It's sort of like your own cognitive behavioral therapist in your head, although I totally suggest working with one anyway. Meditation teaches us to look at our thoughts from a 3rd person perspective. It's through meditation that we learn to separate ourselves from our thoughts and be curious about them. It's wonderful to learn that thoughts just happen and oftentimes don't actually mean anything useful, so what happens if you watch them come and go instead of instantly believing in them and following them down the spiral of despair? Okay, so your ankle hurts. But wait, does that mean I will never run again?! Maybe. Could it also mean that it's working through the phases of healing and that takes time plus a healthy environment to help it move along? Yes. Then I can run again? Probably. Realistically, both scenarios could be true. The ultimate skill is resiliency; believing you can weather the storm and asking for help so that you have reliable support because, no one is an island.
People tend to perceive an increased level of pain when they are anxious, angry, or scared. Not only has this also been shown in the research, but I see it every day. I'll give you an example. One day, someone came in who could not move his neck hardly at all because he slept funny and he came in laughing so I laughed with him. Isn't it funny when we run into jams like that?! The body is so wild! He was notably not worried about his predicament. After one treatment, he said he felt great and went about his way. But on a different day, someone came in who was very worried because something popped with a shot of pain a few days ago. They felt okay now but they were scared something was very wrong. Turns out everything was completely fine but what was the most remarkable was their fear. I truly believe fear is their biggest obstacle.
I'm not saying fear is not valid. It is very useful for us in situations where we need to make a
decision to mobilize in order to be safe. But understand this: The emotion "fear" is linked to the limbic system, part of our old reptilian brain. This area of the brain is theorized to have been formed earlier than other areas. It is said to be responsible for survival/animal instincts. Again, it is useful when fear tells us our lives may be in danger and action needs to be taken. But it is not useful when fear is ramped and on repeat because then your body, on a hormonal and physiological level, (for instance, immune system) thinks sh*t is about to hit the fan any moment now...for days, maybe months, perhaps longer.
If you'd like to learn maybe more than you really anticipated about this topic, I highly recommend reading "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" by Dr. Robert Sapolsky.
Take a look at the thoughts that you are "listening" to every day. Are they helpful and supportive? Or are they scary and downright ugly? I'm not suggesting to focus on the best case scenario and forget about the rest. Life happens. What I am offering is that you take a look at the bigger picture. What are all the scenarios that are just as likely to happen? As Adam Grant in "Think Again" asks of us, can you think more like a scientist?
Can you have hope for the best and simultaneously build resiliency for the trials and tribulations? What support do you need to set up for yourself to ensure success? What are some areas in your life that could use some TLC? Are you cheering yourself on or spitting in your own face? When times come when you are down, what are some things you can try to help you work through them? If you are scared about something, which professionals in your community can you trust to help you navigate your fear?
You CAN do this... but you have to believe it first.