Hippocrates once wrote, "The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well." This is the essence of mind/body medicine. Mind/body medicine is an approach to healing that uses the power of thoughts and emotions to positively influence physical health. Most ancient healing practices, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, emphasize the important links between the mind and the body.
How mind/body medicine work
Researchers have found that stress hormones are associated with unhealthy emotions. These hormones affect the immune systems and organs throughout the body. For example, stress related to hostility and anxiety can result in disruptions in heart and immune function. Similarly, depression and distress may diminish the body's natural capacity to heal. In contrast, emotional expression that encourages openness and active coping with problems helps stabilize the immune system. How a person processes emotions can also affects how long he or she may survive a chronic illness.
Certain emotions have been linked to disease. For example, hostile attitudes may increase your risk for coronary heart disease, obesity (particularly having excess fat around the waist), insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), and abnormal cholesterol (specifically, high triglycerides and low HDL – the good kind of cholesterol).
The goal of mind/body techniques is to activate the relaxation response and reduce the stress response. When you are relaxed, the levels of hormones related to stress are reduced and your immune system is more efficient. High levels of stress hormones circulating in the body may actually prove to increase one's susceptibility to infection as well.
Does mind/body medicine really work?
While phrases such as "mind over matter" have been around for years, scientists have found solid evidence that mind/body techniques actually do combat disease and promote health. In 1989, for example, a landmark study by David Spiegel, M.D. at Stanford University School of Medicine dramatically demonstrated the power of the mind to heal. Of 86 women with late-stage breast cancer, half received standard medical care while the other half received the standard care plus weekly support sessions in which the women were able to share both their grief and their triumphs. Spiegel discovered that the women who participated in the social support group lived twice as long as the women who did not. A similar study in 1999 showed that in breast cancer patients, helplessness and hopelessness are linked to lesser chances of survival.
Mind/body medicine is good for…
Mind/body techniques are helpful for many conditions because they promote relaxation, improve coping skills, reduce tension and pain, and lessen the need for medication. For example, many mind/body techniques are used (along with medication) to treat acute pain. Symptoms of anxiety and depression also respond well to mind/body techniques. Because mind/body improve coping skills and give a feeling of control over symptoms, the techniques may help treat many different diseases including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Coronary heart disease
- Cancer, such as pain and nausea/vomiting related to chemotherapy
- Stomach and intestinal disorders (including indigestion [dyspepsia],
- irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, heartburn, and Crohn's disease)
- Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, depression, and irritability
The key to any mind/body technique is to "train" the mind to focus on the body without any distraction. It is in this state of "focused and concentration" that an individual may be able to change his or her health.
Biofeedback- Biofeedback is a technique in which people are trained to improve their health by learning to control certain internal bodily processes that normally occur involuntarily, such as heart rate or blood pressure. Biofeedback is an effective therapy for many conditions, but it is primarily used to treat tension headache, migraine headache, and chronic pain.
Cognitive behavioral therapy-This technique is used to help people recognize and change dysfunctional thought patterns.
Relaxation Techniques-There are three major types of relaxation techniques:
- Autogenic training. This technique uses both visual imagery and body awareness to move a person into a deep state of relaxation. The person imagines a peaceful place and then focuses on different physical sensations, moving from the feet to the head. For example, one might focus on warmth and heaviness in the limbs; easy, natural breathing; or a calm heartbeat.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. This technique involves slowly tensing and then releasing each muscle group individually, starting with the muscles in the toes and finishing with those in the head.
- Meditation. The two most popular forms of meditation in the U.S. include Transcendental Meditation (students repeat a mantra [a single word or phrase],) and mindfulness meditation (students focus their attention on their moment-by-moment thoughts and sensations).
Spirituality- Research suggests that faith, hope, and forgiveness and the use of social support and prayer have a noticeable effect on health and healing.
The only danger that mind/body medicine might have, is that it might encourage you to feel that you caused your illness because you lacked a healthy mental attitude. This incorrect idea can lead to blame, and blame only causes feelings of distress and guilt.