Feb
16

Why How You Think About Your Health Matters

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I just read an article in Bottom Line Personal called “You Can Think Your Way to Better Health.” BLP interviewed Ellen Langer, PhD and author of The Mindful Body, who cited numerous studies to show how just reframing the way you think about exercise, eating, diagnoses, and symptoms can drastically affect outcomes.

For instance:

  • In one of Dr. Langer’s studies, researchers encouraged a group of hotel chambermaids to view their everyday work as exercise. Result: those chambermaids lost weight and experienced reduced blood pressure compared to the chambermaids that were not instructed to think of their work as exercise.

  • Other research from Stanford University further found that people who don’t perceive themselves as physically active have significantly higher mortality rates than those who do perceive themselves to be active—regardless of how active they actually are.

How physically active do you think YOU are? You might want to up that perception. Take into account all the housework, yard work, shopping, etc., not just what is normally considered “exercise.” I recently remarked to my husband that if we ever moved to a house with less stairs, as people “of age” are suggested to do, maybe it wouldn’t actually be as good for us.

I love this one: you can imagine yourself eating your favorite, but not necessarily healthiest, foods—and actually reduce your desire to eat. Imagining eating and actually eating are not all that different to the brain. So if you imagine yourself eating, for example, cheese, as test subjects did, you will likely eat less of it if offered, because you would feel fairly full already from just imagining eating it.

The authors suggest next time you’re tempted to eat something you know isn’t good for you, imagine in great detail the experience of eating it. I love pizza, but it’s “death on a plate” for me, with everything that doesn’t agree with me: gluten, cheese, tomato sauce. I can try imagining not only the taste, but the smell, the warmth of the cheese, and the feel of the crust in my mouth. (Yum!)

What about your view of medical matters in general, about the state of your own health, and about how (and whether) the body can heal?

According to Dr. Langer, how you view your medical diagnoses, such as borderline test results and chronic symptoms, can influence your health outcomes.

I often tell my clients who have been handed a devastating diagnosis, “This is just a label for some observations people have made about a group of symptoms. They cite statistics from large groups of people. You are an individual. You can control a number of factors that will determine YOUR ultimate outcome.”

A big part of that control is how you view your health status.

“Compared to other people your age, would you say your health is: poor, fair, good, very good, or excellent?”

This was a question I was asked at my recent Medicare wellness checkup.

I answered “good,” despite my various “diagnoses,” and my doctor agreed. She told me that because of my lifestyle (and perhaps, attitude), I have a very different health trajectory than many people she sees that are my age with my “conditions.”

Why? Because I live as healthy a lifestyle and I can, and because of how I view the body and health.

Image of rusty car, to illustrate one view of the body: that it's mechanical and will rust outimage of thriving plant, to illustrate how the body heals when you respect and support its intelligenceI wrote a blog post called “How the Body Heals: Two Views” in which I contrast the modern Western mechanistic view of the body with a more organic approach. Read it here.

Which view do you adopt? Your answer to this, and the other question about your comparative health, could affect the trajectory of your own health outcomes.

What about symptoms?

What is a healthy way to view symptoms, especially if you have chronic health issues?

The typical way symptoms are viewed is that it’s something gone wrong with the body (mechanistic view), and that the answer is to medicate away the symptom.

The trouble is, medications often cause side effects, which are then treated as symptoms to be relieved. Thus you fall into the medical mill where you’re taking multiple medications to treat symptoms often caused by the medications themselves, while no one bothers to find out what the root causes of the symptoms were.

The Bottom Line Personal article talks about being mindful of symptom variability—the fact that symptoms rise and fall. This can help you be less bothered by them and thus, avoid triggering a fear loop that makes everything worse (and could cause neuroplastic pain).

I would add, there is another perspective, one that views symptoms not as signs of disease but signs of healing. The figure below summarizes the process. I wrote more about it here. 

What if symptoms were also messages from your body? Messages that, if heeded and decoded, could point you to ways to improve your health? I wrote about various aspects of that as well on my blog. The end of this article gives that list.

Could merely adopting the views that symptoms are messages from the body and/or signs of regeneration, rather than being a cause for alarm, affect the outcome?

I believe it can. When I first started doing The Healing Codes, all kinds of symptoms cropped up. That first year, I was running often to the doctor (not having made the transition fully to the organic view of the body). Slowly I began giving myself more and more time for the symptoms to resolve before going to the doctor. Invariably the symptoms would subside as I kept doing my healing work.

Important note: I am not saying don’t seek medical advice or treatment. I usually try my healing tools first, and give that time (healing often takes time). My experience has been that when I do that, often the medical interventions are not needed.

I did and do seek medical intervention when it seems warranted. Recently I had an issue that all my healing tools could not fix, because it was an anatomical problem. I had a surgery that drastically improved the quality of my life. AND I’m finding that I still need to use my healing tools to detox from the surgery and treatments themselves, because the medications used were heavy duty and I am sensitive to medications. My Truth Focus Statement for this is, “I am fully recovering in all ways from the surgery and all side effects from the medications.”

Dr. Ellen Langer and Dr. Gabor Maté. author of When the Body Says No, and no doubt other experts, say, “The body and mind are one entity.”

Who knew that our minds and hearts—and what we believe—could be so powerful?

(Trick question: I believe you already know, because you’re reading this. But it’s always encouraging to get independent confirmation from credible people, isn’t it?)

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