Science is increasingly proving to us that what is going on in your brain can affect how the body heals, even from chronic conditions such as MS, chronic pain, HIV and COPD.
Obviously this should be used in conjunction with traditional treatments and medications, not instead of but science proves that what’s in your head can speed up and improve your body’s healing processes and it can influence everything from your immune system to pain control.
Our mental state has dramatic effects when it comes to the symptoms we experience like pain, fatigue, nausea and depression. Playing a virtual-reality game can ease pain in burn victims by 50% more than by drugs alone. Placebo painkillers trigger the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins. Showing that our thoughts and expectations can have a similar effect that drugs do. If we feel stressed and alone then warning signs such as pain, fatigue and nausea are amplified and if we feel safe and cared for then our symptoms are eased. Ultimately are brain controls and creates the experience of any damage that has been caused to our body. Our mood and mental and emotional state plays a huge part in being able to amplify or ease symptoms. Studies have shown that patients receiving warm, friendly good quality care at the GP and hospitals showed an ease in their symptoms compared to those to had a more quick, abrupt, colder experience. So regardless of the treatment given, it can be how the care is delivered that can determine a patient’s outcome and our recent trend of shortened 10min appointment slots and reduced staffing levels are in fact proven to be detrimental to patient care and outcome.
The brain controls physiological functions from digestion to the immune system and therefore is also relevant for the physical progression of the disease too. We cant wish ourselves better but by modulating our responses to stress we can influence our own brain into control our internal processes in a positive way to help reverse the progression of chronic conditions.
Stress of a situation can cause just as much harm as a physical injury for example in an earthquake just as many die from heart attacks as from falling rubble. Studies show that patients who feel negative or anxious before an invasive procedure will suffer more complications during and afterwards. Relaxation techniques have shown to vastly reduce pain and anxiety as well as the rate of adverse effects. Stressful situations can also effect our bowel movements and patients with IBS have found that gut-focused hypnotherapy teaches patients to tackle stress and calm their digestive system and is highly effective.
Stress also affects the immune system and in cases of long-term chronic conditions it can disrupt the healthy immune response and result in infections and auto-immune disease. It can accelerate MS and HIV conditions and recent studies have shown that stress-management therapy can stall progressions in MS and that mindfulness mediation can slow HIV.
There is also evidence that the mind plays a role in cancer. Stress hormones have been shown to make some cancers spread faster and an imbalance in the immune system can encourage the growth of tumours. Early results from studies show that stress-management reduces inflammation but we are still waiting to see if that translates into increased survival rates. Even if this isn't found to happen, easing the fatigue and nausea from chemotherapy may encourage someone to stick to their treatment plan and indirectly improve survival.
Patients with COPD have found that through relaxation, meditation and stress management therapy they can ease their symptoms and reduce the frequency and severity of exacerbations and reduce the amount of oxygen therapy they need.
The mind can’t heal everything but it is clear that our mental state does have wide-ranging physiological effects that can affect our health in many ways even with those suffering chronic serious diseases. Trying to stay positive, feeling cared for and dealing with stressful situations can benefit your health.