Life is a mysterious and curious phenomenon. Our existence is predicated by our ability to survive, and our survival is contingent on us staying healthy. Throughout millennia we have endured even during times when medicine was in its infancy. So what could be the missing link that has helped us overcome our health challenges and any adversity waiting to wipe our existence? Could faith or belief have something to do with it?
When we think about belief and faith our first thoughts will most likely be of religion and spirituality. Most of us are thought to believe in a higher power without proof of existence and have faith that everything will be alright. This is the fundamental belief system which is ingrained in most believers. And I think overtime this type of thinking filters down into our psyche and influences us on levels we cannot even comprehend.
Look at the human body, this amazing miraculous healing machine. It works day and night to keep you breathing and your heart beating and all the millions of little bio-chemical processes taking place just to keep you alive. When we fall sick or hurt ourselves, inadvertently we seek medicine to make us better. Medicine is a wonderful tool at enhancing our healing abilities and providing the necessary ingredients to restore health, but ultimately it’s your body that heals itself. Even if you did not take any medicine the chances are that you will get better, provided the disease hasn’t progressed to a stage where there has been too much damage or it’s progressing at a rapid rate beyond your healing abilities.
There have been instances of spontaneous recovery from life threatening health conditions and people outliving their doctor’s prognosis. There are instances of people being told they can never walk again to only walk a few short months later. The stories are endless and it makes us wonder what all these cases have in common. Looking deeper we can see that most of these individuals believed that they would get better. Their faith in their ability to recover was so strong and unwavering that their bodies had no choice but to comply and heal itself completely.
In medicine we are well aware of this phenomenon and most medical experiments take the patients belief system into account through the observation of the placebo effect. When the application of medicine is studied a control substance without any active ingredient is also used generally in half the participants to rule out the placebo effect, an effect observed in individuals who show measurable benefits to the treatment based solely on their belief that they received the real medicine and that it will benefit them, even though they got the fake medicine. And there have been instances where the placebo actually does an equal or better job than the actual medicine itself. This is not to say that medicines don’t work, it just demonstrates how powerful our minds can be in influencing our health. If you think something is going to make you better, even a sugar pill can do miracles. I am reminded of an experiment done years ago where one set of patients got knee surgery for osteoarthritis and another set got a sham surgery where only incisions were made on the skin of the knee and sown up to simulate knee surgery. In both cases the patients got better. The patients who believed they got a knee surgery even though they didn’t seemed to improve just as well as the folks who got the actual surgery, which is remarkable. This begs the question, is this type of surgery even necessary?
Just as the placebo effect improves a patient’s health outcome, the nocebo effect can have a negative outcome on a patient’s health due to the expectation of the patient that the medicine or treatment he or she is receiving will harm them. Real noticeable and measurable effects are recorded in people who experience the placebo and nocebo effect, which can only be attributed to their psychogenic belief system.
So what does this mean for us? It means that we need to realize, our thoughts can have a great effect on our health. Although our bodies will heal itself regardless of whether we believe it will or not, our belief in our ability to get better or not will to some extent influence the rate at which we heal. In some individuals their minds can have a very powerful influence on their health. In such cases, learning to generate positive thoughts on a regular basis is important for your health. You can literally think yourself into sickness and you can think yourself out of sickness. Having said that, take everything you learn with a grain of salt. We are not one dimensional beings and everything we do can influence our health to some extent. Eating wholesome foods, sleeping well and exerting regularly are fundamental for your well-being but now you need to give equal importance to your stress levels and your thought patterns.
What you consistently think will influence your belief system and feed into it and vice-versa. A negative belief system which looks at the world as a dangerous place, can skew our thoughts down a dark path with every experience. If you are currently unwell or on the brink of healthiness, look at your thinking patterns. Are most of the thoughts you generate making you happy or sad? Can you make a connection between how you feel emotionally and how your body responds physically? Since our belief systems and the thought patterns they generate are ingrained in us and have developed over years through our experiences and what we have been thought, it will take time to change them for the better. Meditation and introspection in my opinion are wonderful tools to rewrite how we think to better serve us. Here is a simple meditative exercise, extrapolated from a chapter in my book, “Rules of Health” to help you overcome destructive thought patterns. Every day for a few minutes, sit and just observe you thoughts. When negative thoughts arise dismiss them by being an impartial observer. Let such thoughts go and bring your focus back to the silence and stillness within you. When positive thoughts occur, pay attention to them and give them energy, by following those thoughts as they progress. Overtime your neural pathways will develop to support and generate encouraging and constructive thoughts. What I just described is an enhanced process of mindfulness based meditation. Some folks prefer to use prayers others choose visualization techniques. Do what works for you. Do not fear your mind and its power, as it will enslave you. Work with it, train it, and with time you mind will consistently generate thoughts that are life affirming and healing in nature.
Hope you enjoyed this article and found it of value.
In good health,
Dr. Behzad Azargoshasb, ND