Can the mind alone heal illness?
- The American Psychological Association defines spontaneous remission as “a reduction or disappearance of symptoms without any therapeutic intervention, which may be temporary or permanent. It most commonly refers to medical, rather than psychological, conditions.”
- The mind-body connection describes “the idea that how you think and feel is inextricably linked to how your body feels and functions. The reverse is also true—your physical health has a profound impact on your thoughts and emotions.”
- Fourth-century BC ancient-Greek physician, Hippocrates, said, “The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well.”
- A Pew Research Center study revealed that one-in-twelve Americans “never take over-the-counter medications.”
Thoughts certainly create physical responses, like salivation and sexual arousal. Experts are aware of the mind-body connection and how mental perception guides physical responses.
Gratitude improves sleep; feeling meaningful lengthens longevity; optimism boosts immunity; meditation slows aging and reduces blood pressure; imagining working out actually builds muscle; laughing lowers the risk of heart disease. How foods physically affect the body is altered by the eater’s own perspective of their nutritional value. Stress’ impact is significantly changed just by how it’s viewed.
In fact, the once-discounted placebo effect is now being regarded by researchers as measurably effective. Placebo does not mean imaginary. With pain, placebo prompts the release of endorphins to provide relief. With Parkinson’s, it similarly starts a rush of dopamine. Even fake oxygen is shown to stave off symptoms of altitude sickness. In each example, the mind triggers a natural healing response. Expecting to feel better can indeed result in feeling better. More profoundly, it works independently of consciously held beliefs.
On the other hand, treating pain with painkillers is not only costlier but often comes with an array of unwanted side effects, not to mention the risk of addiction. Applying what we know about psychological influences on treatment allows for potentially maximizing or replacing drugs altogether.
Scientists, scholars, and educators are becoming increasingly vocal about the measurable, robust power of the mind, calling for greater emphasis on individual mindsets’ importance in healing. An evidence-based approach requires acknowledging the growing body of significant, substantial findings confirming that mind-body medicine is not alternative; it’s empirical.
While our minds are indeed very powerful, the mind alone cannot heal the body. Commonly called the placebo effect, there is good data to show the mind can relieve some ailments. In science, this means that the perception of receiving treatment causes relief. It is something so powerful that it must be controlled in drug trials.
But, while the mind can make you feel better, it cannot cure you. Mental conditioning can be used to treat pain or reduce headaches and can also improve immune health. But you cannot cure tumors, diseases, broken bones, or the many other ailments humans face through the mind alone.
Many new-age philosophies profess that ancient practices like yoga and mindfulness can cure disease, but science does not show this. Even without studies, we know this intuitively. Despite all the ancient mind tricks and exercises, it was only since the rise of modern medicine that we have doubled life expectancy over the last 200 years.
While being less stressed and more mindful will improve immune function, you cannot think your way out of most diseases. Instead, these types of activities should be seen as complementary to getting proper care, not alternatives to it.
Telling sick people they need to be happier, more relaxed, or to improve their outlook is belittling and unproductive. Furthermore, the idea of turning people away from proper care may actually be dangerous--even those with the best intentions may not understand the harm they may be causing.
In summary, use your mind to create balance and peace in your life to support your somatic nervous system, but understand its limits and still get the help you really need.
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