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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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Why I'm Changing the Direction of My Business, and Why I'd Love for You To Come Along!


Blog Post – Why I’m Changing the Direction of my practice, and why I’d love for you to follow along

 

 

I have a confession. I’ve been struggling for a while now, and truthfully the only people I’ve expressed it to are my closest confidants. I don’t mean to imply that anything is wrong, because its not, but I haven’t felt aligned with my practice for a couple of months now and the frustration has been swirling and building and gestating. Recently, this somewhat irritating energy finally decided to express itself, and I experienced a pretty major meltdown. However, once I finally dried my tears and got myself out of the shame/blame game, I realized the clarity that had been born from the moment. You see, I started out in the health and wellness community very passionate and excited about nutrition and its role in the vitality of the human body. I thrived on learning how to heal from chronic conditions that the conventional medical community dismissed such as anxiety, autoimmunity, depression and hormonal imbalance and ate up every piece of information I could. From there I got interested in other physically-focused aspects of health like sleep, exercise and the stress response, but then as I continued my research, work with clients and personal journey into the space of living well, I realized there was a big, fat hole no one was talking about. Well, not no one, but at least not the majority of practitioners I knew and listened to. The disconnect was: How other pieces of our lives such as work, relationships, self-acceptance, mindset and our ability to lean into feelings like love, vulnerability and joy fit into the puzzle of wellness AND can stop us from really ever getting out from under the story we feel is ours to bear. You see, many of my clients (including myself at one point) hit a wall and stalled out when we focused solely on nutrition. Sure they’d get results and feel or look physically better, but they would either fall back into old habits OR still walk away feeling like there was something missing. They’d get stuck in “healing mode” for months or even years at a time always looking for the next protocol, lab or aha-diagnoses to finally cure their issues, not realizing it all had to do with alignment.

 

The deeper I got into my own path with these internal subjects, the more I started sharing with my clients and the more results they started getting as well. They were becoming happier, calmer, more joyful and less anxious. They were aligning more with their soul paths and learning all about self-love and compassion and taking time, maybe for the first time, to implement self-care, which led them to show up better for everyone around them as well. WE began talking about relationships, and shame around money and their unwillingness to forgive themselves for not being perfect and as I watched these transformations unfold, I realized that I no longer aligned with just a nutrition-centered practice, but still wasn’t sure how to bridge the gap between where I was with my business and where I really wanted to be.

 

Then this last week, in the middle of another frustrating battle, and subsequent breakdown, with my copy, messaging and marketing (all things I dread by the way), I realized something – It wasn’t flowing because it wasn’t my truth. Well, not my whole truth anyway. You see, I’m not interested in taking my clients half way and focusing in on what I consider to be only one aspect of healing and transformation. I’m interested in co-creating and rendezvousing with those who are ready to chew on the whole enchilada. Those who are looking to wake up a year from now and say, “I don’t even recognize the person I used to be.” Those who are willing, able and committed to finding purpose and passion every day and who are ready to fight the good fight to bring forth their authenticity and divine truth.

 

Does nutrition line up with this? Absolutely. You must have a well-oiled machine if you want to win the race, but is it the whole picture? Not from what I’ve found. In fact, over the last couple years, I’ve found that there are really 6 key areas of the human experience that impact whether or not we will ever reach our fullest potential and live a life of freedom and happiness, of health and wellness. They are: Diet, Sleep, Exercise, beliefs/mindset, relationships and finances. And yes, I’m aware that the last one is a loaded topic, but it’s true. I’ve met people who were eating the best diets and sleeping 8 hours a night, but were riddled with dis-ease because they were constantly worried sick about money or, on the flip side, who felt terrible living large because what they really wanted was to live off the grid in a more sustainable way. Like it or not, money plays a role in all of our lives and our alignment with what feels good to us matters – whatever that may be!

 

In my mind, each one of these aspects compliments the others like a beautiful tapestry with multi-colored threads woven throughout. The picture simply wouldn’t be complete without each individual colored strand, and that is the way I have found healing to occur. I believe with my whole heart that when we are not in alignment with the higher purpose we come here to this earth for, that our bodies will find a way of telling us this. Maybe it starts out small like feeling a little tired and burned out, but as we continue to ignore the messages, our body and inner beings turn into screaming toddlers, throwing tantrums and trying every trick they know to get our attention.

 

The more we ignore the message, the louder the fits get until finally, and usually in a grand-gesture of frustration, we end up with something more serious like autoimmunity, heart disease, cancer, depression, anxiety, thyroid issues or some psychosomatic condition conventional medicine has no answer for (um, hello me). Then, and only then, with our backs pinned against the wall, do we usually listen up and THIS is the pivotal moment where we have a choice. A choice to choose a new path, the one that’s always been waiting for us, being held in trust by our higher consciousness, or to turn away in fear and continue to live a life with our hearts and souls closed off to all that we are wasting away what precious time we have left in this mortal body.

 

For those who choose option A, the path will not always be clear or easy – that is to be expected, and where I come in as a coach. I decided to go at this journey alone, but not because I wanted to. At the time, I simply didn’t realize there were coaches out there who were acting as mentors and guides and facilitators for those like myself who were walking the path of awakening and transformation, or I would have absolutely enlisted the help someone wiser. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t’ have teachers. I read books, I listened to books, I listened to podcasts, I read blogs, I Googled an inordinate amount of questions, I went to retreats, I spoke with friends and family, I saw therapists, I went to yoga classes, I meditated, I saw energy healers, I followed inspiring Instagram accounts and so much more. I submerged myself into the space of transformation because it was what I wanted more deeply than anything I’d ever wanted, and you can too. I went through much trial and error in my own journey, and while I certainly don’t preach one way of living (there are a million different ways to align), I do feel like all those experiences put me in a much better position to guide others down the path of awakening and reformation.

 

I believe that there are more of us than ever hearing the call. The call that says, “There’s more. I am more.” It is when we hear this call that we must listen or our resistance to it will build and gain so much momentum that our lives will begin to disintegrate before our eyes as the universe drags us along down the path to our dreams. We can go kicking and screaming, getting beat up along the way by the dusty road of stagnation and fear, or we can let go, surrender and trust that where we are heading is grander than anything we could have imagined for ourselves. It is our choice.

 

So, with that being said, this is the gentle, but exciting shift I will be making with my clients and in my platform. I’m not entirely sure how it will all unfold, and that part is exciting to me now. But I do know that this new, more expansive direction feels right and feels good. I can’t wait to be a part of the many journeys of total life transformation that are to come. Nothing gives me more joy than seeing my clients lives improve as they learn to lean into their intuitive nature and step into their power and vitality. But none of that is possible without addressing more than just our diets. More than just what’s in front of us in a way that we can see, touch and hear. We must go deeper if we are to truly change, and that is what I hope to bring to the table in this new direction. I hope you’ll stick along for the ride. I have a feeling it’s only going to get bigger and better from here. Until next time...

 

Much love, 

Sy 

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