Don’t underestimate the power of your mind in healing your body

In today’s society, it is becoming more common to find people seeking traditional medicine. Individuals are realising that conventional medicine aids in treating the symptoms but not the underlying problem. Perhaps one could argue that conventional medicine serves a great deal more in the sense of treating physical damage done to a person, maybe from a car accident, rather than diet-related or psychological issue. People are opening up to our ancestral work in medicine; they are beginning to understand the effectiveness and healing it brings to our minds, bodies and some would stretch to say, our spirit.

Roy Moodley, PhD, who is an Associate Professor of Counselling Psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada explains that, “accessing traditional healing alongside counselling may provide the client with holistic care that addresses the needs of the body, as well as the mind.” It is the idea that our bodies and minds are interconnected. Have a problem with your skin? Your liver? Or your kidneys; Taking a holistic approach could help your overall health.

Roy discusses how using traditional medicines alongside our more well known westernised medicines as a process of “dual interventions for clients who engage traditional healing practices alongside psychotherapy” could be more beneficial than we think. However, due to the lack of empirical data we have on these holistic medicines, it poses as a problem for practitioners in confidently advising their patients to seek these alternative methods (even though they, themselves, may believe there is some value to these methods).

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Image from Pixa bay. The use of herbal medicine in healing.

The accumulation of negative thoughts has been argued to be one of the key culprits in the manifestation of illnesses on the body and mind. Can negative thinking and the emotional stresses we face daily lead to some cancers or autoimmune diseases? Does negative thinking change the biological cellular mechanisms occurring in our bodies? Well, as traditional medicines are being more commonly explored, it is thought that tackling the negativity in your environment using these methods may help heal your body.

Gregg Braden, who was awarded the 2019 prestigious Templeton Prize and is a five-time New York Times best-selling author and is internationally renowned as a pioneer in bridging science, spirituality and human potential, explains that it is “our emotions that affect our health” and that it is, “the quality of the emotional signal the heart sends to the brain which determines what kind of chemicals are released into our bodies. When we feel what we would typically call negative emotions (for instance, anger, hate, jealousy, and rage), the heart sends a signal to the brain that mirrors our feelings. Such emotions are irregular and chaotic, and this is precisely what the signals they send to the brain look like.” It is these negative emotions that lead to a cascade of mechanisms in the body that ultimately have negative effects on us long-term. These negative emotions are correlated with stress.

Gregg braden goes on to explain that, in our ancestral times this flight-or-fight response was hugely beneficial in responding with extreme alertness to dangers, such as a hungry bear waiting outside your cave. However, when the danger is gone, so does the stress. Stress to the body leads to the release of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is really good at reducing the blood flow to vital organs and redirecting it to the muscles needed for action. This hormone also plays a role in suppressing the immune response and shuts down the release of important chemicals needed for normal functioning of the body.

In today’s society, one could argue that we are exposed to a lot of stresses, especially in our jobs. Many jobs expose their employees to stresses that cause their bodies to trigger the autonomic nervous system via the sympathetic pathway. Exposed to this pathway long-term has detrimental effects on the body.

Gregg Braden mentions that, “The rise in U.S. statistics for stress-related conditions, including heart disease and stroke, eating disorders, immune deficiencies, and some cancers, is less of a surprise when we take into account the relentless stress that many people experience in their daily lives.” So if negative emotions can lead to the body manifesting some really horrifying diseases, then could one argue that positive emotions can be healing on the body?

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Image from pixabay. 

Xi Yang who works in the department of Psychology, Wake Forest University Winston-Salem, NC, USA looked at how, “vmPFC activation during a stressor predicts positive emotions during stress recovery” and the results are astonishing.

They conducted, “(fMRI) experiments to test the routes through which positive emotions facilitate stress recovery.” The participants were given a very difficult anagram to complete and then were compared to other people’s performances negatively. They then reflected on this stressor, whilst either watching an emotionally positive or neutral video. The participants positive and negative emotions were collected throughout the stressor and recovery period.

The researchers hypothesised, that those who watched the emotionally positive video instead of the neutral video whilst reflecting the stressor, recovered much quicker and better.

“As for neural activation, we hypothesised that the vmPFC would be the central hub for positive emotional recovery as it is expected to be linked with positive emotions and is likely involved in both the cognitive facilitation and information routes” explained Xi Yang.

An example of a hard anagram from the first word list. The correct answer is 14 523 ‘opera’.

Xi Yang concluded that, “the findings advance our understanding of biobehavioral models of positive emotions and stress regulation by providing evidence that vmPFC activation during the stressor may impact positive emotions and confer benefits on stress regulation not seen until recovery.”

Therefore, the power of positive thinking is tremendous in helping us deal with a stressful situation.

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