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mind-body connection

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Know Thyself: Awareness Comes First


Something I’ve been tossing around and chewing on for quite some time now is the concept of self-awareness and its role in the psychology of change, healing and wellness. My slight obsession with it came as the result of my search for meaning and understanding around the elusive, hard-to-grasp topic of self-love. Something I speak often about, and also something, I would argue, we all want to feel, but aren’t entirely sure how to go about accomplishing.

 

To me, then, it became apparent that before self-love, before self-compassion, and absolutely before self-understanding, there must be something else. Something more substantial and foundational. Something that would catch you as you fall and provide a landing net of sorts to direct you through your darkest and most pivotal moments, and what I’ve found is that it is self-awareness.

 

As I’ve become more enamored with this idea, I’ve come to believe that self-awareness is one of the most important traits a human being can embody, because without it, we will never really know ourselves, and therefore anyone else – essentially, leaving us devoid of the connection we’re hardwired to seek. Without it, we also become destined to continue loops of mistakes, behaviors and habits in perpetuity, equaling ourselves to a mouse on a hamster wheel (laughably of course). Whether its diets we start and fail endlessly, relationship arguments we rinse and repeat or an inability to find a meaningful career we enjoy, all of it points back to the same thing: the lack of self-awareness to change it.

 

But why does this matter? Why should we want, or need, to change the parts of our lives that don’t appear to be working in our favor? Well:

 

 A. Because they aren’t working (obviously)

 B. Because generally, we aren’t always the ones doing the “choosing” of these patterns, habits and beliefs, meaning the software we’re operating on is somewhat outdated, un-useful and un-applicable to who we are, what we want and where we’re going.

 

Sometimes this software comes from our parents, sometimes the culture we live in, sometimes its just an amalgamation of all our life experiences, but nonetheless, it’s often not directly chosen, and therefore, not directly applicable, leaving us stuck in a weird, self-perpetuating cycle we rarely stop to question, let alone change.

 

The key to any kind of lasting change then is simply awareness. Awareness of self and the ability to introspectively mine your inner landscape for information you can then use to move forward, both incrementally and insightfully. To understand your feelings, emotions, thoughts and motivations and then act accordingly. In other words, to “know thyself,” as was subscribed in Ancient Greece, written with conviction on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, is to understand the world around you, as the world around you is a reality of your own making.

 

However, it is here that I find it equally important to throw in a word of caution. Because, for all that I speak of self-awareness, I do find that it can easily become pathological in nature, and therefore, occasionally, negates its own purpose. Let me explain…

Often times, as we become more aware of ourselves (perhaps through counseling, prayer, meditation, or something else entirely), we get a bit obsessive with viewing our life through this new lens. When I, as a newly self-aware person, start to notice all the ways my behavior, beliefs and habits of thought affect my daily experience, it’s easy to myopically zoom in on all that is ME and forget that the reason I wanted to become aware in the first place was so that I could more easily interact with the world around me. I see this evidenced time and time again as clients, friends and family (including myself at one point) become ever-obsessed with finding the next level of ascension, the next layer to peel back or the next roadblock to uncover. And while I clearly promote and agree with knowing oneself, I think it’s worth mentioning that the reason to know oneself IS to be more happy. More free. More content. So, if awareness is leading you away from those states of being, it’s perhaps time to reconsider your approach.

 

 So, how to cultivate awareness without simultaneously getting caught in self-absorption? More awareness. And I say that laughing, with a smile on my face, yet entirely serious. That’s it. Simply to know that this could possibly, potentially be a problem is enough. Simply to know that you are eating handfuls of chips straight from the bag because you are stressed is enough. Simply to know that you’re over-reacting to something your husband or boyfriend said because it triggered your abandonment issues is enough. Simply to know that your feeling irritable and snappy because you’re scared is enough. Its enough just to know. Because once you know, you can’t unknow. And one of those times, after you’ve known it long enough, you’ll make a new choice that IS directly applicable, and you will have started the process of change so organically, you’ll hardly notice it’s presence.

 

Start by asking questions. Who am I? What do I believe? Why do I believe it? Where am I going? Why am I feeling this way? What happens when I feel this way? Who would I like to be instead? Is there a reason for this behavior? Do the way I see myself and the way others see me match? Do I care? Who is doing the thinking here? Do my thoughts matter? What are my habits around X? What are my patterns around Y?

 

Ask. Ask. Ask. Get curious, then sit back and watch the answers unfold. They will. They do every time. And eventually, if you ask enough questions, you’ll get a really good answer.

 

THIS is why I self-awareness is key to change. Key to self-love, key to transformation. It is a powerful, foundational, absolutely necessary and vital component to obtaining all that you seek. And the best part is, you can start right here, right now, today – for free.

 

Until next time,

Sy 

 

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The Nocebo Effect: Can You Think Yourself Sick?

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The Body is Not A Textbook

When it comes to healing the body, I’m the type practitioner who believes it’s more an art form than a science, but only because I’ve witnessed what happens when we reduce the body to a textbook.

 

You see, for many years, I made my body a textbook. I figured the more I knew the better, and set out to learn everything I could about the intricacies of internal human landscape as I worked to heal my own debilitating conditions. I was the woman “doing everything right,” by all evidence-based standards, but who was still mired in fear, doubt and a host of physical ailments that left me hanging by a thread. And, not only was I caught in this puzzling web of confusion, but I still see it time and time again in my practice in women dealing not only with whatever diagnoses or host of symptoms they’re plagued with, but also burn out from all the routines, rituals, supplements and protocols of which they’re strictly adhering.

 

To be fair, these prescriptions and recommendations are helpful. For short term data-collection, plans and supplemental support can absolutely be useful, and I’ll never be one to refute the power of cleansing leafy greens or gut-healing bone broth. Yet, ultimately, finding out what the body needs to repair itself requires more than a pantry full of vitamins and piles of expensive doctor bills. Rather, it requires a gentle, subtle tuning in that starts with our beliefs about it’s ability to do so.

 

Many of us have heard of the placebo effect in medicine and health, but less so the Nocebo effect. While the placebo effect demonstrates the positive correlation between the mind-body connection (the body’s ability to heal itself), the nocebo effect points to it’s negative implications. Essentially, the nocebo effect is a branch of mind-body healing dedicated to understanding the correlation between the negative beliefs we hold about our body and how they manifest physically and mentally.

 

What I I want to discuss in this post is how certain beliefs and thoughts you may harboring could be holding you back from that which you want – to live a healthy, free and happy life.

 

Understanding the Mind-Body Connection

 

The mind is powerful, this we know. But just how powerful is less charted territory, particularly because our Western medicine culture doesn’t leave a lot of room for anecdotal, or what is often termed woo-woo, evidence. Without good hypothesis and proof, we don’t consider research like that to be valid. And we certainly don’t find clinical evidence to be enough to constitute fact. Meaning that just because I see something repeated in my practice, doesn’t mean it’s true. But, nonetheless, when all else fails and we’ve tested every lab imaginable with no movement toward improvement, its worth looking into what else could be causing the block.

 

Enter: Mind-body healing. Unfortunately, it’s still last on the list for most people after all other efforts have failed, but then again, I don’t really care how you got here, only that you did.

 

To demonstrate the Nocebo Effect in action, let’s take a look at a few examples that have been recorded throughout the years:

 

·      In a controlled study done for a new chemotherapy drug, control patients were given saline water as their placebo, yet 30% of them lost their hair.

 

·      In another study, control patients were given a sugar pill they were told could cause nausea. 80% of them vomited.

 

·      Patients on antidepressants who were reporting a decrease in depression were told they would be getting randomized placebos – meaning they may or may not be continuing their medication. Both patients who continued their medication, and those on the placebo, reported a returning and worsening of symptoms.

 

Now, these are just three of many studies done on the same topic, but they aptly showcase what I mean when I say “the mind is king.” In other words, what you think you shall see. NOT what you see, you shall think.

 

Our brain’s ability to construct our reality is real, and worth examining if we find ourselves unable to kick certain illnesses, symptoms, beliefs, patterns or conditions.

 

How to Know If The Nocebo Effect is Affecting You

 

I often tell my clients to start out writing a list of things they believe to be true about their bodies. For example: If someone is struggling with chronic fatigue, they may list out beliefs like:

 

I’m always tired.

I can’t exercise without needing a nap.

I don’t’ sleep well.

I never know how my body will feel.

I’m just kind of a weak and sickly person. Always have been, always will be.

 

Someone who is trying and failing to lose weight may believe things like:

 

I can’t quit sugar, I’ve tried hundreds of times

Working out is really hard

I just look at food and gain weight

My love handles get bigger every year

My body was just built to be big

 

Bear in mind that these will vary depending on whatever it is you’re considering a struggle.

Then, after they’ve done that, I ask them to see how many on their list serve them well and how many do not. And by serve them, I mean are helpful to their healing. Most of the time, there are very few which serve them, and many, many that hinder their efforts and cause emotional responses like depression, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness and powerlessness.

 

When we get clear on what our beliefs about our body or condition or life circumstances are, it becomes easier to see what sorts of responses are resulting as a consequence. Simply put, if I wake up everyday believing that I am tired and didn’t get enough sleep, that is what I will most likely find to be true day in and day out.

 

While the Nocebo Effect isn’t widely understood from a scientific viewpoint (it’s hard to get approval for studies that knowingly cause harm), some researchers point to the stress effect that negative beliefs or thoughts can have on the body and attribute the physical decline that occurs in response to the Nocebo Effect. In other words, your worrisome and stressful thoughts about your condition trigger a physical stress response in your body which causes all kinds of symptom manifestations.

 

Yet, this doesn’t necessarily describe the “how” behind the specificity like the cases listed above. But, whether or not we have a fully functional explanation, it’s clear to see that the mind plays a HUGE role in whether or not the body will be able to heal, and I see this in my practice often. Which is exactly why I believe healing the mind and body must be done congruently. When we talk about root cause medicine, we’re referring to finding the root of the problem and digging it out so to speak to the issue can resolve. When the root cause is a belief, that must be addressed as well and can start with something as little as being willing to notice the beliefs that are working for your benefit, and the ones that are not, and then working to replace them slowly.

 

Even a statement as tiny as, “I don’t know if my body will ever heal, but I’m willing to hold out hope,” can be enough to open up the door of possibilities previously closed to you by your unwillingness to see them.

 

We know that the power of the placebo effect is real and mighty and can lead to dramatic, spontaneous healings in the body and mind. With that said, it would only make sense that the opposite it true as well, in which case, paying attention to our daily, even moment-to-moment, thoughts about our life could and would be worthwhile.

 

Til next time,

Sy

 

 

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