Does that sound silly? It should not since you know at the least what you think determines your actions. Your actions can obviously either build health (e.g. go for a walk in nature) or destroy it (e.g. swallow a back alley discount pain killer that turns out to contain fentanyl).
Beyond that, the brain tells the body what to do. (Has your brain ever told your stomach to do a sickening flip when you found out that you would have to give a speech?) In many and marvelous ways that we may not even notice, the brain controls the body. Surprisingly, mainstream science acknowledges the power of the mind. As you may know, they factor in the placebo effect in studies. That, of course is when simply the belief that a therapy will provide help itself causes improvement. Not as well known, there is a corresponding negative—the nocebo effect…i.e. thinking that a therapy will cause harm results in a negative health outcome.
The world of mind/body medicine is rich in connections between thought or emotions and how the physical body reacts. As an example, one of Healthy by Nature’s revered sponsors, the late Gus Kotsanis, MD, told me that he had a very hard time helping people overcome cancer until they stopped harboring anger and resentment. Below are a few more thoughts on the power of the mind:
- Heart health. In her interview this week about Women’s Heart Health, Sherry Torkos gave her 7 steps for prevention of heart disease and 2 where related to attitude:
1. Be optimistic. Research conducted in over 97,000 women found that optimists have lower rates of heart disease.
7. Stress less and laugh more. Stress is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially in women. Laughing relaxes and expands blood vessels, which protects the heart.
- Speaking of stress, it shows up in the mirror. You might see a noticeable difference in your appearance in photos taken on vacation compared to one from a work meeting. I like this quote from the late humorist Erma Bombeck, “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
- Mindfulness. The University of California, Berkely defines the term this way “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.” There are many benefits attributed to mindfulness and books and even magazines at the grocery checkout counter about it.
* Many practitioners recommend meditation as a kind of extra purposeful mindfulness. I suspect that prayer has the same calming benefits (in addition the expectation that the prayer will be answered).
* A simple but proven example of mindfulness is to focus on a meal and enjoy various aspects of it and notice how it makes you feel. That may result in more satisfaction and a delay in wanting more food…and cumulatively in weight loss.
* In a practical sense, it is also paying attention. Too often we are distracted, e.g. by phones. How many times do we “forget” a name or where we parked, but rather had paid no attention to begin with? Also, obviously, accidents happen when we are not tuned in. Case in point…one evening I was getting ready to use my Waterpik® flosser, but was thinking about something else when I clicked on the motor before putting the tip in my mouth. I was brought back to the present by a blast of water in my face.
- Gratitude. My 11/23/22 blog was a somewhat personal piece on gratitude. In it I noted that “On Pubmed.gov I searched the database for ‘gratitude and health’. I got back 1,261 results!” (Today that number is up to 1,326 and articles cover a great many health issues.) That blog also had this quote: “A deliberate change in perspective can turn annoyances into reasons to be grateful. It is like the quote from Abraham Lincoln, ‘We can complain that rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.’ A practical application—If my errands are slowed down by road construction, I remind myself that I’m lucky to live in an area that even has paved roads and that my city works to fix them”. Also “Happiness is not having what you want, it is appreciating what you have.”
EXPECT health because you get more of what you focus on.